RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) is a public-key cryptosystem that is widely used for secure data transmission. It is also one of the oldest. The acronym RSA comes from the surnames of Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, who publicly described the algorithm in 1977. An equivalent system was developed secretly, in 1973 at GCHQ (the British signals intelligence agency), by the English mathematician Clifford Cocks. That system was declassified in 1997.
In a public-key cryptosystem, the encryption key is public and distinct from the decryption key, which is kept secret (private). An RSA user creates and publishes a public key based on two large prime numbers, along with an auxiliary value. The prime numbers are kept secret. Messages can be encrypted by anyone, via the public key, but can only be decoded by someone who knows the prime numbers.