The CryptoAPI Programming Model

The Microsoft Cryptographic Application Program Interface (CryptoAPI) is a set of functions that allow applications to encrypt or digitally sign data in a flexible manner, while providing protection for the user's sensitive private key data.

All cryptographic operations are performed by independent modules known as cryptographic service providers (CSPs). One CSP, the Microsoft RSA Base Provider, is bundled with the operating system.

Each CSP provides a different implementation of the CryptoAPI. Some provide stronger cryptographic algorithms while others contain hardware components such as smartcards. In addition, some CSPs may occasionally communicate with users directly, such as when digital signatures are performed using the user's signature private key.

The CryptoAPI programming model can be compared to the Windows GDI model in that the CSPs are analogous to graphics device drivers, and the cryptographic hardware (optional) is analogous to graphics hardware. Just as well-behaved applications are not allowed to communicate with graphics device drivers and hardware, well-behaved applications cannot directly access the CSPs and cryptographic hardware.

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