PHP Public/Private Key Cryptography

PHP Public/Private key cryptography is fairly strait forward but at the time of this writing it's poorly documented.

Understanding how Public/Private Key Encryption Works

Before we get into how you do it, it's important to understand how it works. The methods used to do public/private key encryption only work for a very small amount of data, less than 1024 bytes. The exact number of bytes depends on the method used.

Since we want to encrypt something that is large, a whole message, the system must use two types of encryption. First, it picks a random key and encrypt the full message with that key. This first encryption is simply a regular one-way cipher. Next, the random key we used in the first encryption is itself encrypted using the public or private key. Now, only the matching public/private key can decrypt the one-way key used to encrypt the full message. But, we must store both the encrypted message and the key that was used to encrypt it. I'll use two files to store those pieces of information.

Generating the Public/Private Key Pair

The first thing you need to do is generate your public/private key pair. This can be done in PHP but the little documentation I could find about the process only worked in PHP 5.3.0 or greater and I happen to be using a slightly older version. It's fairly easy to generate the key pair on a Linux box using OpenSSL so I generated my key pair using that. Under windows you could probably use PuTTYgen, but I haven't tried that.

I use the following openssl command to generate my private key.

openssl genrsa -out private.key 1024

Next I use the following openssl command to generate my public key.

openssl rsa -in private.key -out public.pem -outform PEM -pubout

That's it, we're ready to use our public/private keys to encrypt or decrypt data.

Encrypting Data with the Public Key

Arrays are used for the $publicKeys and the resulting $encryptedKeys below. This allows you to encrypt the same message for multiple recipients . This example only uses one public/private key pair, however, so our array's will contain only one item. Never the less, the function requires and returns an array for these values.

It should also be noted that we will base 64 encode the encrypted data. This makes it easier to store the data in plain text, such as an email.

// Get the full message text into a variable
$fullText = 'Hello world.  Nice to meet you.';

// Load the public key into an array
$publicKeys[] = openssl_get_publickey(file_get_contents('public.key'));

// Encrypt the $fullText and return the $encryptedText and the $encryptedKeys
$res = openssl_seal($fullText, $encryptedText, $encryptedKeys, $publicKeys);

// Setup a couple filenames to store the text and its key
$dataFile = 'data.txt';
$keyFile = 'data.key';

// Write the order files
file_put_contents($dataFile, base64_encode($encryptedText));
file_put_contents($keyFile, base64_encode($encryptedKeys[0]));

That's it, your full text is now encrypted into the 'data.txt' file using the key that was encrypted with your public key and stored in the 'data.key' file.

Decrypting Data with the Private Key

// Load the private key from the private.key file
$privateKey = openssl_get_privatekey(file_get_contents('private.key'));

// Setup a couple filenames to load the text and its key from
$dataFile = 'data.txt';
$keyFile = 'data.key';

// Read the previously encrypted file and the key used to encrypt it
$encryptedData = file_get_contents($dataFile);
$encryptedKey = file_get_contents($keyFile);

// Decrypt the data with our $privateKey and store the result in $decryptedData
$result = openssl_open(base64_decode($encryptedData), $decryptedData, base64_decode($encryptedKey), $privateKey);

// Show if it was a success or failure
if ($result) {
  echo "Success.\n";
} else {
  echo "Failure.\n";
}

// Store it locally
$localFile = 'decrypted.txt';
file_put_contents($localFile, $decryptedData);


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php/php_public_private_key_cryptography.txt · Last modified: 2010/03/07 15:10 by Joel Dare