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Key distribution center

(also KDC)

Key distribution center definition

A key distribution center (KDC) is a network component that helps control who can access what in a network. It gives out cryptographic tickets and keys to users, ensuring they are who they say they are. These tickets and keys allow users to access specific network resources securely. KDCs are used in corporate networks, government agencies, educational institutions, cloud services, SSO solutions, and networked applications.

See also: cryptographic key

How a key distribution center works

  • The KDC is set up with records of all the users and their respective secret keys (usually derived from their passwords). The KDC also contains records of all the service providers (like a file server or a print server) and their secret keys.
  • The user requests an initial ticket from the KDC. The KDC verifies the user's credentials and, if they’re valid, sends back an encrypted ticket and a session key.
  • The user uses that ticket to request access to a specific service (e.g., logging in remotely or printing).
  • The service receives the user’s request and checks their ticket. If the ticket is valid, the user gets access to the resource.
  • Throughout this process, the session key keeps the communication between the user and the service encrypted and secure to prevent unauthorized access.