A protocol is a set of rules. It describes the proper protocol for certain actions and behaviors. David Johnston, the Governor-General of Canada, broke protocol when he touched Queen Elizabeth II on the steps of Canada House on Trafalgar Square in London. The Queen was 91 years old at the time and the Governor General touched her arm to protect her from falling on the steps. It is protocol to not touch a member of Britain's royal family.
There are protocols to most things in our lives. When it comes to cryptography, protocols are built into the programming. These are referred to as security protocols. They are also called cryptographic or encryption protocol. The protocol sets up the behavior of the algorithms in the software.
In the tangible world, you protect your assets in safes and behind locked doors. In the virtual world, you also need to lock up your valuables. In the case of bitcoin, the lock and key are implemented through cryptographic protocols.
The security of bitcoin is based on cryptography which is based on math. Not just math but pure math. Applied math is math that is used to solve real-life problems. Statistics is a good example. Pure math is abstract. Numbers theory is pure math that was studied for the sake of studying math.
You could compare it to philosophy. There are those who say that the ancient philosophers discussed how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. If they could determine an acceptable answer, what use would it be in the day-to-day world?
Pure mathematicians studied and pondered numbers. What good was numbers theory? How would you ever use it? It was all about studying integers. An integer is a whole number. You might know numbers theory by its old name – arithmetic.
This is a field that was studied by those fascinated by math. It had no practical use until cryptography became a crucial part of our interaction with the rest of the world. This is where bitcoin's security comes from, the field of mathematics. Bitcoin is based on cryptography and succeeds because of its cryptographic protocols.
If it used a symmetric algorithm, the same secret key would be used to encrypt the transaction and decrypt it. This is symmetric encryption. Bitcoin's authentication protocol demands an asymmetric algorithm. The same key is not used for encryption and decryption. Finally a use for arithmetic that permeates our daily lives. Bitcoin's ledger can reside in full public view, there for anyone to examine. The cryptography aspect is that the privacy of bitcoin is a result of a security protocol using a public key and a private key to encrypt each transaction.