Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Cryptography, Arithmetic: Hardware and Software

One of the main topics for our project is public-key cryptography. After 20 years of hegemony, the classical public-key algorithms (whose security is based on integer factorization or discrete logarithm in finite fields) are currently being overtaken by elliptic curves. The fundamental reason for this is that the best algorithms known for factoring integers or for computing discrete logarithms in finite fields have — at best — a subexponential complexity, whereas the best attack known for elliptic-curve discrete logarithms has exponential complexity. As a consequence, for a given security level 2n, the key sizes must grow linearly with n for elliptic curves, whereas they grow like n3 for RSA-like systems. As a consequence, several governmental agencies, like the NSA (National Security Agency, USA) or the BSI (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, Germany), now recommend to use elliptic-curve cryptosystems for new products that are not bound to RSA for backward compatibility.

Besides RSA and elliptic curves, there are several alternatives currently under study. There is a recent trend to promote alternate solutions that do not rely on number theory, with the objective of building systems that would resist a quantum computer (in contrast, integer factorization and discrete logarithms in finite fields and elliptic curves have a polynomial-time quantum solution). Among them, we find systems based on hard problems in lattices (NTRU is the most famous), those based on coding theory (McEliece system and improved versions), and those based on the difficulty to solve multivariate polynomial equations (UOV, for instance). None of them has yet reached the same level of popularity as RSA or elliptic curves for various reasons, including the presence of unsatisfactory features (like a huge public key), or the non-maturity (system still alternating between being fixed one day and broken the next day).

Returning to number theory, an alternative to RSA and elliptic curves is to use other curves and in particular genus-2 curves. These so-called hyperelliptic cryptosystems have been proposed in 1989 [28] , soon after the elliptic ones, but their deployment is by far more difficult. The first problem was the group law. For elliptic curves, the elements of the group are just the points of the curve. In a hyperelliptic cryptosystem, the elements of the group are points on a 2-dimensional variety associated to the genus-2 curve, called the Jacobian variety. Although there exist polynomial-time methods to represent and compute with them, it took some time before getting a group law that could compete with the elliptic one in terms of speed. Another question that is still not yet fully answered is the computation of the group order, which is important for assessing the security of the associated cryptosystem. This amounts to counting the points of the curve that are defined over the base field or over an extension, and therefore this general question is called point-counting. In the past ten years there have been major improvements on the topic, but there are still cases for which no practical solution is known.

Another recent discovery in public-key cryptography is the fact that having an efficient bilinear map that is hard to invert (in a sense that can be made precise) can lead to powerful cryptographic primitives. The only examples we know of such bilinear maps are associated with algebraic curves, and in particular elliptic curves: this is the so-called Weil pairing (or its variant, the Tate pairing). Initially considered as a threat for elliptic-curve cryptography, they have proven to be quite useful from a constructive point of view, and since the beginning of the decade, hundreds of articles have been published, proposing efficient protocols based on pairings. A long-lasting open question, namely the construction of a practical identity-based encryption scheme, has been solved this way. The first standardization of pairing-based cryptography has recently occurred (see ISO/IEC 14888-3 or IEEE P1363.3), but the recent progress in discrete logarithms in finite fields will probably slow down its large deployment.

Despite the rise of elliptic curve cryptography and the variety of more or less mature alternatives, classical systems (based on factoring or discrete logarithm in finite fields) are still going to be widely used in the next decade, at least, due to resilience: it takes a long time to adopt new standards, and then an even longer time to renew all the software and hardware that is widely deployed.

This context of public-key cryptography motivates us to work on integer factorization, for which we have acquired expertise, both in factoring moderate-sized numbers, using the ECM (Elliptic Curve Method) algorithm, and in factoring large RSA-like numbers, using the number field sieve algorithm. The goal is to follow the transition from RSA to other systems and continuously assess its security to adjust key sizes. We also work on the discrete-logarithm problem in finite fields. This second task is not only necessary for assessing the security of classical public-key algorithms, but is also crucial for the security of pairing-based cryptography.

Another general application for the project is computer algebra systems (CAS), that rely in many places on efficient arithmetic. Nowadays, the objective of a CAS is not only to support an increasing number of features that the user might wish, but also to compute the results fast enough, since in many cases, the CAS are used interactively, and a human is waiting for the computation to complete. To tackle this question, more and more CAS use external libraries, that have been written with speed and reliability as first concern. For instance, most of today's CAS use the GMP library for their computations with big integers. Many of them will also use some external Basic Linear Algebra Subprograms (BLAS) implementation for their needs in numerical linear algebra.

During a typical CAS session, the libraries are called with objects whose sizes vary a lot; therefore being fast on all sizes is important. This encompasses small-sized data, like elements of the finite fields used in cryptographic applications, and larger structures, for which asymptotically fast algorithms are to be used. For instance, the user might want to study an elliptic curve over the rationals, and as a consequence, check its behaviour when reduced modulo many small primes; and then [s]he can search for large torsion points over an extension field, which will involve computing with high-degree polynomials with large integer coefficients.

Writing efficient software for arithmetic as it is used typically in CAS requires the knowledge of many algorithms with their range of applicability, good programming skills in order to spend time only where it should be spent, and finally good knowledge of the target hardware. Indeed, it makes little sense to disregard the specifics of the intended hardware platforms, even more so since in the past years, we have seen a paradigm shift in terms of available hardware: so far, it used to be reasonable to consider that an end-user running a CAS would have access to a single-CPU processor. Nowadays, even a basic laptop computer has a multi-core processor and a powerful graphics card, and a workstation with a reconfigurable coprocessor is no longer science-fiction.

In this context, one of our goals is to investigate and take advantage of these influences and interactions between various available computing resources in order to design better algorithms for basic arithmetic objects. Of course, this is not disconnected from the other goals, since they all rely more or less on integer or polynomial arithmetic.