RSA is a cryptosystem for public-key encryption, and is widely used for securing sensitive data, particularly when being sent over an insecure network such as the Internet.

Public-key cryptography, also known as asymmetric cryptography, uses two different but mathematically linked keys, one public and one private. The public key can be shared with everyone, whereas the private key must be kept secret. In RSA cryptography, both the public and the private keys can encrypt a message; the opposite key from the one used to encrypt a message is used to decrypt it. This attribute is one reason why RSA has become the most widely used asymmetric algorithm: It provides a method of assuring the confidentiality, integrity, authenticity and non-reputability of electronic communications and data storage.

Many protocols like SSH, OpenPGP, S/MIME, and SSL/TLS rely on RSA for encryption and digital signature functions. It is also used in software programs -- browsers are an obvious example, which need to establish a secure connection over an insecure network like the Internet or validate a digital signature. RSA signature verification is one of the most commonly performed operations in IT.