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Section: New Results

Symmetric cryptosystems

Participants : Anne Canteaut, Pascale Charpin, Virginie Lallemand, Gaëtan Leurent, María Naya Plasencia, Joëlle Roué, Valentin Suder.

From outside, it might appear that symmetric techniques become obsolete after the invention of public-key cryptography in the mid 1970's. However, they are still widely used because they are the only ones that can achieve some major features like high-speed or low-cost encryption, fast authentication, and efficient hashing. Today, we find symmetric algorithms in GSM mobile phones, in credit cards, in WLAN connections. Symmetric cryptology is a very active research area which is stimulated by a pressing industrial demand for low-cost implementations (in terms of power consumption, gate complexity...). These extremely restricted implementation requirements are crucial when designing secure symmetric primitives and they might be at the origin of some weaknesses. Actually, these constraints seem quite incompatible with the rather complex mathematical tools needed for constructing a provably secure system.

The specificity of our research work is that it considers all aspects in the field, from the practical ones (new attacks, concrete specifications of new systems) to the most theoretical ones (study of the algebraic structure of underlying mathematical objects, definition of optimal objects). But, our purpose is to study these aspects not separately but as several sides of the same domain. Our approach mainly relies on the idea that, in order to guarantee a provable resistance to the known attacks and to achieve extremely good performance, a symmetric cipher must use very particular building blocks, whose algebraic structures may introduce unintended weaknesses. Our research work captures this conflict for all families of symmetric ciphers. It includes new attacks and the search for new building blocks which ensure both a high resistance to the known attacks and a low implementation cost. This work, which combines cryptanalysis and the theoretical study of discrete mathematical objects, is essential to progress in the formal analysis of the security of symmetric systems.

In this context, the very important challenges are the designs of low-cost ciphers and of authenticated encryption schemes. Most teams in the research community are actually working on the design and on the analysis (cryptanalysis and optimization of the performance) of such primitives.

Block ciphers

Even if the security of the current block cipher standard, AES, is not threatened when it is used in a classical context, there is still a need for the design of improved attacks, and for the determination of design criteria which guarantee that the existing attacks do not apply. This notably requires a deep understanding of all previously proposed attacks. Moreover, there is a high demand from the industry of lightweight block ciphers for some constrained environments. Several such algorithms have been proposed in the last few years and their security should be carefully analyzed. Most of our work in this area is related to an ANR Project named BLOC. Our recent results then mainly concern either the analysis and design of lightweight block ciphers, or the in-depth study of the security of the block cipher standard AES.

Recent results:

Authenticated encryption

A limitation of all classical block ciphers is that they aim at protecting confidentiality only, while most applications need both encryption and authentication. These two functionalities are provided by using a block cipher like the AES together with an appropriate mode of operation. However, it appears that the most widely-used mode of operation for authenticated encryption, AES-GCM, is not very efficient for high-speed networks. Also, the security of the GCM mode completely collapses when an IV is reused. These severe drawbacks have then motivated an international competition named CAESAR, partly supported by the NIST, which has been recently launched in order to define some new authenticated encryption schemes ( ). Our work related to this competition is then two-fold: G. Leurent has participated to the design of a CAESAR candidate named SCREAM. Also, the project-team is involved in a national cryptanalytic effort led by the BRUTUS project funded by the ANR which aims at evaluating the security of all CAESAR candidates.

Recent results:

Hash functions and MACS

The international research effort related to the selection of the new hash function standard SHA-3 has led to many important results and to a better understanding of the security offered by hash functions. However, hash functions are used in a huge number of applications with different security requirements, and also form the building-blocks of some other primitives, like MACs. In this context, we have investigated the security of some of these constructions, in order to determine whether some particular constructions for hash functions may affect the security of the associated MACs.

Recent results:

Cryptographic properties and construction of appropriate building blocks

The construction of building blocks which guarantee a high resistance against the known attacks is a major topic within our project-team, for stream ciphers, block ciphers and hash functions. The use of such optimal objects actually leads to some mathematical structures which may be at the origin of new attacks. This work involves fundamental aspects related to discrete mathematics, cryptanalysis and implementation aspects. Actually, characterizing the structures of the building blocks which are optimal regarding to some attacks is very important for finding appropriate constructions and also for determining whether the underlying structure induces some weaknesses or not.

For these reasons, we have investigated several families of filtering functions and of S-boxes which are well-suited for their cryptographic properties or for their implementation characteristics. For instance, bent functions, which are the Boolean functions which achieve the highest possible nonlinearity, have been extensively studied in order to provide some elements for a classification, or to adapt these functions to practical cryptographic constructions. We have also been interested in functions with a low differential uniformity (e.g., APN functions), which are the S-boxes ensuring an (almost) optimal resistance to differential cryptanalysis.

Recent results:

Symmetric primitives based on lattices

Lattice-based cryptography is an alternative to number-theoretic constructions for public-key cryptography. Lattice-based constructions enjoy a worst-case security reduction to hard lattice problems, and the area is very active, with many new designs offering attractive features.

Recently, this approach has also been used to build symmetric cryptosystems based on lattice problems. While those systems are less efficient than traditional symmetric systems, they are still reasonably efficient, and their security can be related to hard computational problems rather than being only heuristic. In addition, the underlying mathematical structure can offer extra properties such as parallelizability or easy protection against side-channel attacks.

Recent results: