Research in the Crypto Team

Research Activities

Provable Security

Since the beginning of public-key cryptography, with the seminal Diffie-Hellman paper~\footcite{DifHel76}, many suitable algorithmic problems for cryptography have been proposed and many cryptographic schemes have been designed, together with more or less heuristic proofs of their security relative to the intractability of the underlying problems. However, many of those schemes have thereafter been broken. The simple fact that a cryptographic algorithm withstood cryptanalytic attacks for several years has often been considered as a kind of validation procedure, but schemes may take a long time before being broken. An example is the Chor-Rivest cryptosystem~\footcite{C:ChoRiv84}, based on the knapsack problem, which took more than 10 years to be totally broken~\footcite{C:Vaudenay98}, whereas before this attack it was believed to be strongly secure. As a consequence, the lack of attacks at some time should never be considered as a full security validation of the proposal.

A completely different paradigm is provided by the concept of "provable" security. A significant line of research has tried to provide proofs in the framework of complexity theory (a.k.a. "reductionist" security proofs): the proofs provide reductions from a well-studied problem (factoring, RSA or the discrete logarithm) to an attack against a cryptographic protocol.

At the beginning, researchers just tried to define the security notions required by actual cryptographic schemes, and then to design protocols which could achieve these notions. The techniques were directly derived from complexity theory, providing polynomial reductions. However, their aim was essentially theoretical. They were indeed trying to minimize the required assumptions on the primitives (one-way functions or permutations, possibly trapdoor, etc), without considering practicality. Therefore, they just needed to design a scheme with polynomial-time algorithms, and to exhibit polynomial reductions from the basic mathematical assumption on the hardness of the underlying problem into an attack of the security notion, in an asymptotic way. However, such a result has no practical impact on actual security. Indeed, even with a polynomial reduction, one may be able to break the cryptographic protocol within a few hours, whereas the reduction just leads to an algorithm against the underlying problem which requires many years. Therefore, those reductions only prove the security when very huge (and thus maybe unpractical) parameters are in use, under the assumption that no polynomial time algorithm exists to solve the underlying problem.

For a few years, more efficient reductions have been expected, under the denomination of either "exact security" or "concrete security", which provide more practical security results. The perfect situation is reached when one is able to prove that, from an attack, one can describe an algorithm against the underlying problem, with almost the same success probability within almost the same amount of time: "tight reductions". We have then achieved "practical security", as termed by Bellare.

Unfortunately, in many cases, even just provable security is at the cost of an important loss in terms of efficiency for the cryptographic protocol. Thus, some models have been proposed, trying to deal with the security of efficient schemes: some concrete objects are identified with ideal (or black-box) ones. For example, it is by now usual to identify hash functions with ideal random functions, in the so-called "random-oracle model". Similarly, block ciphers are identified with families of truly random permutations in the "ideal cipher model". Another kind of idealization has also been introduced in cryptography, the black-box group, where the group operation, in any algebraic group, is defined by a black-box: a new element necessarily comes from the addition (or the subtraction) of two already known elements. It is by now called the "generic model". Some works even require several ideal models together to provide some new validations.

But still, such idealization cannot be instantiated in practice, and so one prefers to get provable security, without such ideal assumptions, under new and possibly stronger computational assumptions. As a consequence, a cryptographer has to deal with the three following important steps:
  • computational assumptions, which are the foundations of the security. We thus need to have a strong evidence that the computational problems are reasonably hard to solve.
  • security model, which makes precise the security notions one wants to achieve, as well as the means the adversary may be given. We contribute to this point, in several ways:
    • by providing security models for many primitives and protocols;
    • by enhancing some classical security models;
    • by considering new means for the adversary, such as side-channel information.
  • design of new schemes/protocols, or more efficient, with additional features, etc.
  • security proof, which consists in exhibiting a reduction.

Randomness in Cryptography

Randomness is a key ingredient for cryptography. Random bits are necessary not only for generating cryptographic keys, but are also often an part of steps of cryptographic algorithms. In some cases, probabilistic protocols make it possible to perform tasks that are impossible deterministically. In other cases, probabilistic algorithms are faster, more space efficient or simpler than known deterministic algorithms. Cryptographers usually assumes that parties have access to perfect randomness but in practice this assumption is often violated and a large body of research is concerned with obtaining such a sequence of random or pseudorandom bits.

One of the project-team research goals is to get a better understanding of the interplay between randomness and cryptography and to study the security of various cryptographic protocols at different levels (information-theoretic and computational security, number-theoretic assumptions, design and provable security of new and existing constructions).

Cryptographic literature usually pays no attention to the fact that in practice randomness is quite difficult to generate and that it should be considered as a resource like space and time. Moreover since the perfect randomness abstraction is not physically realizable, it is interesting to determine whether imperfect randomness is “good enough” for certain cryptographic algorithms and to design algorithms that are robust with respect to deviations of the random sources from true randomness.

The power of randomness in computation is a central problem in complexity theory and in cryptography. Cryptographers should definitely take these considerations into account when proposing new cryptographic schemes: there exist computational tasks that we only know how to perform efficiently using randomness but conversely it is sometimes possible to remove randomness from probabilistic algorithms to obtain efficient deterministic counterparts. Since these constructions may hinder the security of cryptographic schemes, it is of high interest to study the efficiency/security tradeoff provided by randomness in cryptography.

Quite often in practice, the random bits in cryptographic protocols are generated by a pseudorandom number generation process. When this is done, the security of the scheme of course depends in a crucial way on the quality of the random bits produced by the generator. Despite the importance, many protocols used in practice often leave unspecified what pseudorandom number generation to use. It is well-known that pseudorandom generators exist if and only if one-way functions exist and there exist efficient constructions based on various number-theoretic assumptions. Unfortunately, these constructions are too inefficient and many protocols used in practice rely on “ad-hoc” constructions. It is therefore interesting to propose more efficient constructions, to analyze the security of existing ones and of specific cryptographic constructions that use weak pseudorandom number generators.

The project-team undertakes research in these three aspects. The approach adopted is both theoretical and practical, since we provide security results in a mathematical frameworks (information theoretic or computational) with the aim to design protocols among the most efficient known.

Lattice Cryptography

The security of almost all public-key cryptographic protocols in use today relies on the presumed hardness of problems from number theory such as factoring and discrete log. This is somewhat problematic because these problems have very similar underlying structure, and its unforeseen exploit can render all currently used public key cryptography insecure. This structure was in fact exploited by Shor to construct efficient quantum algorithms that break all hardness assumptions from number theory that are currently in use. And so naturally, an important area of research is to build provably-secure protocols based on mathematical problems that are unrelated to factoring and discrete log. One of the most promising directions in this line of research is using lattice problems as a source of computational hardness ---in particular since they also offer features that other alternative public-key cryptosystems (such as MQ-based, code-based or hash-based schemes) cannot provide.

At its very core, secure communication rests on two foundations: authenticity and secrecy. Authenticity assures the communicating parties that they are indeed communicating with each other and not with some potentially malicious outside party. Secrecy is necessary so that no one except the intended recipient of a message is able to deduce anything about its contents.

Lattice cryptography might find applications towards constructing practical schemes for resolving essential cryptographic problems ---in particular, guaranteeing authenticity. On this front, our team is actively involved in pursuing the following two objectives:
  • Construct, implement, and standardize a practical public key digital signature scheme that is secure against quantum adversaries.
  • Construct, implement, and standardize a symmetric key authentication scheme that is secure against side channel attacks and is more efficient than the basic scheme using AES with masking.

Despite the great progress in constructing fairly practical lattice-based encryption and signature schemes, efficiency still remains a very large obstacle for advanced lattice primitives. While constructions of identity-based encryption schemes, group signature schemes, functional encryption schemes, and even fully-homomorphic encryption schemes are known, the implementations of these schemes are extremely inefficient. It is safe to surmise that if the state of affairs remains as it is in the present, then despite all the theoretical efforts that went into their constructions, these schemes will never be used in practical applications. Our team is looking at the foundations of these primitives with the hope of achieving a breakthrough that will allow them to be practical in the near future.

Security amidst Concurrency on the Internet

Cryptographic protocols that are secure when executed in isolation, can be completely insecure when multiple such instances are executed concurrently (as is unavoidable on the Internet) or when used as a part of a larger protocol. For instance, a man-in-the-middle attacker participating in two simultaneous executions of a cryptographic protocol might use messages from one of the executions in order to compromise the security of the second – Lowe’s attack on the Needham-Schroeder authentication protocol and Bleichenbacher's attack on SSL work this way. Our research addresses security amidst concurrent executions in secure computation and key exchange protocols.

Secure computation allows several mutually distrustful parties to collaboratively compute a public function of their inputs, while providing the same security guarantees as if a trusted party had performed the computation. Potential applications for secure computation include anonymous voting as well as privacy-preserving auctions and data-mining. Our recent contributions on this topic include
  • new protocols for secure computation in a model where each party interacts only once, with a single centralized server; this model captures communication patterns that arise in many practical settings, such as that of Internet users on a website,
  • and efficient constructions of universally composable commitments and oblivious transfer protocols, which are the main building blocks for general secure computation.
In key exchange protocols, we are actively involved in designing new password-authenticated key exchange protocols, as well as the analysis of the widely-used SSL/TLS protocols.

Activity Reports

If you want a precise description of our activity, you may read the activity reports for the years
  • In French, from the 4-year lab reports:
1991-93 (HTML,PDF), 1993-95 (HTML,PDF), 1994-97 (HTML), 1998-2001 (HTML), 2001-04 (HTML) and 2004-08 (PDF)

International Collaborations

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