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Definitions[]

A private key is

[t]he secret part of an asymmetric key pair that is typically used to digitally sign or decrypt data.[1]
a cryptographic key, used with a public key cryptographic algorithm, that is uniquely associated with an entity and is not made public. In an asymmetric (public) cryptosystem, the private key is associated with a public key. Depending on the algorithm, the private key may be used to —
1) Compute the corresponding public key,
2) Compute a digital signature that may be verified by the corresponding public key,
3) Decrypt data that was encrypted by the corresponding public key, or
4) Compute a piece of common shared data, together with other information.[2]

Overview[]

For digital signatures, the private key is uniquely associated with the owner and is not made public. The private key is used to compute a digital signature that may be verified using the corresponding public key.

The integrity of even the most secure digital signature rests on the continuing confidentiality of the private key.

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