In this paper we introduce a novel type of cryptographic scheme, which enables any pair of users to communicate securely and to verify each other’s signatures without exchanging private or public keys, without keeping key directories, and without using the services of a third party. The scheme assumes the existence of trusted key generation centers, whose sole purpose is to give each user a personalized smart card when he first joins the network. The information embedded in this card enables the user to sign and encrypt the messages he sends and to decrypt and verify the messages he receives in a totally independent way, regardless of the identity of the other party. Previously issued cards do not have to be updated when new users join the network, and the various centers do not have to coordinate their activities or even to keep a user list. The centers can be closed after all the cards are issued, and the network can continue to function in a completely decentralized way for an indefinite period.