Using Wikipedia’s best kept secret: Simple English

Have you ever found yourself determined to ‘finally figure something out’ about a specific topic, but giving up after reading Wikipedia pages that look too difficult to understand? Wikipedia has an answer to that.

Let’s start with an example. You want to find out what this term Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is all about and start Googling. Chances are big you’ll end up on Wikipedia only after a few seconds. So what does it say?

Public-key cryptography, or asymmetric cryptography, is any cryptographic system that uses pairs of keys: public keysthat may be disseminated widely paired with private keys which are known only to the owner. There are two functions that can be achieved: using a public key to authenticate that a message originated with a holder of the paired private key; or encrypting a message with a public key to ensure that only the holder of the paired private key can decrypt it. (source)

Now, if you don’t know much about IT, cryptography, network traffic, etc., does that ring a bell? If not, you might want to have a look at Wikipedia’s ‘Simple English’.

Simple English

To make things easier to understand, many Wikipedia articles have a special version available, written in ‘Simple English’. If you want a quick and simple introduction to specific things, have a look. In the case of the PKI topic mentioned above, it starts with the following explanation:

Public-key cryptography, also called asymmetric cryptography, is a communication where people exchange messages that can only be read by one another.

In public key cryptography, each user has a pair of cryptographic keys:

  • a public key
  • a private key

The private key is kept secret, while the public key may be widely distributed and used by other users.

Incoming messages are encrypted with the recipient’s public key and can only be decrypted with their corresponding private key. The keys are related mathematically, but the user’s private key cannot be easily got from the widely used public key.

The two main branches of public key cryptography are:

  • Public key encryption: a message encrypted with a recipient’s public key cannot be decrypted except by the recipient private key. This is used to ensure secrecy.
  • Digital signatures: a message signed with a sender’s private key can be verified by anyone who has the sender’s public key. So if the sender signed the message no one can alter it. This is used to get authenticity. (source)

Sure, some things are really complex and cannot be understood within a couple of minutes. Then again, that might not be what you are after in the first place. If you, in the case of a PKI, know that there is a difference between public and private keys, that is already one step in the good direction. The mathematical proof supporting the claim that the private key is provably secure (i.e. ‘uncrackable’) is something you are probably not interested in.

Enabling Simple English

Simple English is added as another language. So, just like German, Dutch and English versions of an article are available, the Simple English version is often present, too. The homepage of Simple English can be found at

If you think this is interesting, you should definitely have a look at some of these (and many more!) cybersecurity-related pages:

Have fun!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.