Hybrid Public Key Encryption (HPKE) is a method of encryption that combines the strengths of public key encryption and symmetric key encryption to provide enhanced security. It is a relatively new encryption standard and is not yet widely adopted. However, there are some programs and services that have started using HPKE to provide enhanced security for their users.

For example, Apple’s iCloud Private Relay uses HPKE to secure online communication and protect user privacy. Another example is the Signal Private Messenger, which also uses HPKE in combination with the Signal Protocol for end-to-end encryption of messages.

In addition to these consumer-oriented programs, HPKE is also being considered for use in enterprise and industrial applications, such as secure communication in the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial control systems.

It is likely that HPKE will become more widely adopted in the future as the need for enhanced security in online communication continues to grow.

How it works

In public key encryption, each user has two keys: a public key and a private key. The public key is used to encrypt messages that are sent to the user, while the private key is used to decrypt messages. This allows for secure communication over an insecure channel, as the private key is kept secret and only the owner of the private key can decrypt the message.

Symmetric key encryption uses a single key to both encrypt and decrypt messages, making it faster than public key encryption. However, the key must be securely exchanged between the parties before communication can begin, which can be a challenge in some situations.

HPKE combines these two methods by using public key encryption to securely exchange a symmetric key, which is then used for the actual encryption and decryption of data. This provides the security of public key encryption for key exchange and the speed of symmetric key encryption for actual data encryption.

HPKE also provides authentication and integrity protection, which ensures that the data has not been tampered with and that it came from the intended sender. This is important in ensuring the confidentiality, authenticity, and integrity of the data being transmitted.

How it stacks up

Compared to other encryption methods, HPKE has several advantages:

  • Flexibility: HPKE is designed to be highly flexible, allowing for the use of different encryption and key exchange algorithms, making it possible to adapt to changing security needs and advances in cryptography.
  • Simplicity: Unlike other encryption methods that can be complex to implement and use, HPKE is designed to be simple to use and implement, making it accessible to a wider range of users.
  • Security: HPKE provides strong security guarantees, ensuring that encrypted data cannot be intercepted and decrypted without the proper keys. It also provides protection against tampering and other forms of attack.
  • Performance: HPKE provides fast encryption and decryption speeds, making it suitable for use in resource-constrained environments such as IoT devices and mobile devices.