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A key is "a value used in combination with an algorithm to encrypt or decrypt data."[1]

A key (also called an electronic key) is

[t]he numerical value used to control cryptographic operations, such as decryption, encryption, signature generation, or signature verification.[2]
[u]sually a sequence of random or pseudorandom bits used initially to set up and periodically change the operations performed in crypto-equipment for the purpose of encrypting or decrypting electronic signals, or for determining electronic counter-countermeasures patterns, or for producing other key[s].[3]
[a] parameter used in conjunction with a cryptographic algorithm that determines its operation. Examples include:
1. The computation of a digital signature from data, and
2. The verification of a digital signature.[4]


Key means "[m]ajor or most important; critical to achieving your intended outcome."[5]


  1. Privacy and Civil Liberties Policy Development Guide and Implementation Templates, App. E, Glossary.
  2. NICCS, Explore Terms: A Glossary of Common Cybersecurity Terminology (full-text).
  3. CNSSI 4009, at 35.
  4. FIPS 186-3.
  5. Baldrige Cybersecurity Excellence Builders, at 26.

See also[]