Data Encrypting Keys (DEKs) are used for encryption of message text and (with some MIC computation algorithms) for computation of message integrity check quantities (MICs). In the asymmetric key management case, they are also used for encrypting signed MICs in ENCRYPTED PEM messages. It is strongly recommended that DEKs be generated and used on a one-time, per-message, basis. A transmitted message will incorporate a representation of the DEK encrypted under an appropriate interchange key (IK) for each of the named recipients.
DEK generation can be performed either centrally by key distribution centers (KDCs) or by endpoint systems. Dedicated KDC systems may be able to implement stronger algorithms for random DEK generation than can be supported in endpoint systems. On the other hand, decentralization allows endpoints to be relatively self-sufficient, reducing the level of trust which must be placed in components other than those of a message's originator and recipient. Moreover, decentralized DEK generation at endpoints reduces the frequency with which originators must make real-time queries of (potentially unique) servers in order to send mail, enhancing communications availability.
When symmetric key management is used, one advantage of centralized KDC-based generation is that DEKs can be returned to endpoints already encrypted under the IKs of message recipients rather than providing the IKs to the originators. This reduces IK exposure and simplifies endpoint key management requirements. This approach has less value if asymmetric cryptography is used for key management, since per-recipient public IK components are assumed to be generally available and per-originator private IK components need not necessarily be shared with a KDC.