Existing Asymmetric Algorithms
Recall that the only information that needs to be shared before initiating symmetric encryption is the secret key. Since this key is typically very small (typically no greater than 256 bits) compared to the bulk data (which could be megabytes) that must be encrypted, it makes sense to use the asymmetric algorithm to encrypt only the secret symmetric key, and then use this symmetric key for encrypting the arbitrarily large bulk message data. The secret symmetric key is often referred to as a session key in this scenario.
There are several asymmetric algorithms in existence today, including RSA, DSA, ElGamal, and ECC. Currently, the most popular is RSA, which stands for Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman, the names of its inventors. RSA is based on the problem of factoring large composite numbers into prime factors. RSA can be used for confidentiality or symmetric key exchange as well as for digital signatures. DSA, which was proposed by NIST in 1991, stands for Digital Signature Algorithm. DSA is somewhat less flexible, since it can be used for digital signatures but not for confidentiality or symmetric key exchange. The ElGamal algorithm, which was invented by Taher ElGamal, is based on the problem of calculating the discrete logarithm in a finite field. EEC stands for Elliptic Curve Cryptography, which was independently proposed in 1985 by Neal Koblitz and V. S. Miller. EEC is not actually an algorithm, but an alternate algebraic system for implementing algorithms, such as DSA, using peculiar mathematical objects known as elliptic curves over finite fields. ElGamal and ECC are not currently supported by .NET out of the box; however, the .NET Framework has been designed to be extensible, making it possible for you or other vendors to provide implementations.
Some asymmetric algorithms, such as RSA and ElGamal, can be used for both encryption and digital signatures. Other asymmetric algorithms, such as DSA, are useful only for implementing digital signatures. It is also generally true that asymmetric algorithms tend to be much slower and less secure than symmetric algorithms for a comparable key size. To be effective, asymmetric algorithms should be used with a larger key size, and, to achieve acceptable performance, they are most applicable to small data sizes. Therefore, asymmetric algorithms are usually used to encrypt hash values and symmetric session keys, both of which tend to be rather small in size compared to typical plaintext data.