What is Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC)? Why does it Matter?

Elliptical Curve Cryptography – also known as ECC – is an alternative PKI encryption method to the most widely used RSA. It might be a new technology from the implementation point of view, but it has been here for quite a long time. You’d be surprised to know that 1987 was the year that ECC was discovered? Created? Either way…  prepare to be amazed.


ECC offers an improved and complicated (as if the current methods weren’t complex enough) alternative to existing public key algorithms. That’s why many systems didn’t support Elliptical Curve Cryptography for a reasonable period of time. However, that has changed.

Let’s understand what ECC is, along with what its significance in web security is.

What is ECC?

ECC is a mathematical technique that protects data in transit by means of encryption keys. The most coveted use of Elliptical Curve Cryptography is in SSL/TLS certificates.

Why is there ‘curve’ in Elliptical Curve Cryptography?

Unlike RSA and other contemporary methods, ECC functions on elliptical curves over finite fields. In much the same way the RSA algorithm is based on prime numbers, what lies underneath the ECC algorithm is elliptical curves.

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Here’s an example of a curve:

Applications of ECC

  • SSL/TLS Certificates
  • Digital Signatures
  • Pseudo-Random Generators

What are the benefits?

The most prominent improvement offered by ECC is the reduction in key lengths. In practice, ECC offers superior security at much lower key lengths compared to RSA. When it comes to the encryption keys, there are two things that matter more than anything; these things are Speed and Security. However, one cannot live with the other.

If you increase the key length, the security will rise consequently. But that doesn’t mean that we can have a key of 1-million-bit length, it’d be catastrophic from the speed point of view. It’s like a slide-scale. That’s why the key-lengths must be limited in length. But again, shorter key-lengths raise security concerns.

That’s where ECC comes in.

ECC facilitates superior encryption security at shorter key-lengths. As a result, it paves the way for a further increase in the key-lengths – without compromising the speed. The difference in key lengths is stupendous.

To put this in simple words, RSA offers the same security level at 2048-bit that ECC offers at 224-bit – almost 90% reduction in key-length.

Now we know why there’s so much buzz about the ECC method.

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In Conclusion

As we all know, RSA 2048-bit is the current standard regarding asymmetric SSL/TLS encryption, and it’s likely to stay that way for some time. However, when RSA weakens, ECC will be there, with its hands wide open.