Elliptic-curve cryptography

Elliptic-curve cryptography (ECC) is an approach to public-key cryptography based on the algebraic structure of elliptic curves over finite fields. ECC allows smaller keys compared to non-EC cryptography (based on plain Galois fields) to provide equivalent security.[1]

Elliptic curves are applicable for key agreement, digital signatures, pseudo-random generators and other tasks. Indirectly, they can be used for encryption by combining the key agreement with a symmetric encryption scheme. Elliptic curves are also used in several integer factorization algorithms based on elliptic curves that have applications in cryptography, such as Lenstra elliptic-curve factorization.

Public-key cryptography is based on the intractability of certain mathematical problems. Early public-key systems based their security on the assumption that it is difficult to factor a large integer composed of two or more large prime factors. For later elliptic-curve-based protocols, the base assumption is that finding the discrete logarithm of a random elliptic curve element with respect to a publicly known base point is infeasible: this is the "elliptic curve discrete logarithm problem" (ECDLP). The security of elliptic curve cryptography depends on the ability to compute a point multiplication and the inability to compute the multiplicand given the original and product points. The size of the elliptic curve, measured by the total number of discrete integer pairs satisfying the curve equation, determines the difficulty of the problem.

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has endorsed elliptic curve cryptography in its Suite B set of recommended algorithms, specifically elliptic-curve Diffie–Hellman (ECDH) for key exchange and Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) for digital signature. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) allows their use for protecting information classified up to top secret with 384-bit keys.[2] However, in August 2015, the NSA announced that it plans to replace Suite B with a new cipher suite due to concerns about quantum computing attacks on ECC.[3]

While the RSA patent expired in 2000, there may be . However some argue that the US government elliptic curve digital signature standard (ECDSA; NIST FIPS 186-3) and certain practical ECC-based key exchange schemes (including ECDH) can be implemented without infringing them, including RSA Laboratories[4] and Daniel J. Bernstein.[5]

The primary benefit promised by elliptic curve cryptography is a smaller key size, reducing storage and transmission requirements,[6] i.e. that an elliptic curve group could provide the same level of security afforded by an RSA-based system with a large modulus and correspondingly larger key: for example, a 256-bit elliptic curve public key should provide comparable security to a 3072-bit RSA public key.

The use of elliptic curves in cryptography was suggested independently by Neal Koblitz[7] and Victor S. Miller[8] in 1985. Elliptic curve cryptography algorithms entered wide use in 2004 to 2005.

For current cryptographic purposes, an elliptic curve is a plane curve over a finite field (rather than the real numbers) which consists of the points satisfying the equation:

along with a distinguished point at infinity, denoted ∞. The coordinates here are to be chosen from a fixed finite field of characteristic not equal to 2 or 3, or the curve equation will be somewhat more complicated.

This set together with the group operation of elliptic curves is an abelian group, with the point at infinity as an identity element. The structure of the group is inherited from the divisor group of the underlying algebraic variety:

At the RSA Conference 2005, the National Security Agency (NSA) announced Suite B which exclusively uses ECC for digital signature generation and key exchange. The suite is intended to protect both classified and unclassified national security systems and information.[6]

Recently, a large number of cryptographic primitives based on bilinear mappings on various elliptic curve groups, such as the Weil and Tate pairings, have been introduced. Schemes based on these primitives provide efficient identity-based encryption as well as pairing-based signatures, signcryption, key agreement, and proxy re-encryption.

Unless there is an assurance that domain parameters were generated by a party trusted with respect to their use, the domain parameters must be validated before use.

The generation of domain parameters is not usually done by each participant because this involves computing the number of points on a curve which is time-consuming and troublesome to implement. As a result, several standard bodies published domain parameters of elliptic curves for several common field sizes. Such domain parameters are commonly known as "standard curves" or "named curves"; a named curve can be referenced either by name or by the unique object identifier defined in the standard documents:

SECG test vectors are also available.[9] NIST has approved many SECG curves, so there is a significant overlap between the specifications published by NIST and SECG. EC domain parameters may be either specified by value or by name.

If one (despite the above) wants to construct one's own domain parameters, one should select the underlying field and then use one of the following strategies to find a curve with appropriate (i.e., near prime) number of points using one of the following methods:

The hardest ECC scheme (publicly) broken to date had a 112-bit key for the prime field case and a 109-bit key for the binary field case. For the prime field case, this was broken in July 2009 using a cluster of over 200 PlayStation 3 game consoles and could have been finished in 3.5 months using this cluster when running continuously.[20] The binary field case was broken in April 2004 using 2600 computers over 17 months.[21]

A current project is aiming at breaking the ECC2K-130 challenge by Certicom, by using a wide range of different hardware: CPUs, GPUs, FPGA.[22]

According to Bernstein and Lange, many of the efficiency-related decisions in NIST FIPS 186-2 are sub-optimal. Other curves are more secure and run just as fast.[26]

Elliptic curves are applicable for encryption, digital signatures, pseudo-random generators and other tasks. They are also used in several integer factorization algorithms that have applications in cryptography, such as Lenstra elliptic-curve factorization.

In 1999, NIST recommended fifteen elliptic curves. Specifically, FIPS 186-4[27] has ten recommended finite fields:

The NIST recommendation thus contains a total of five prime curves and ten binary curves. The curves were ostensibly chosen for optimal security and implementation efficiency.[28]

In 2013, The New York Times stated that (or Dual_EC_DRBG) had been included as a NIST national standard due to the influence of NSA, which had included a deliberate weakness in the algorithm and the recommended elliptic curve.[29] RSA Security in September 2013 issued an advisory recommending that its customers discontinue using any software based on Dual_EC_DRBG.[30][31] In the wake of the exposure of Dual_EC_DRBG as "an NSA undercover operation", cryptography experts have also expressed concern over the security of the NIST recommended elliptic curves,[32] suggesting a return to encryption based on non-elliptic-curve groups.

Elliptic curve cryptography is used by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.[33] Ethereum version 2.0 makes extensive use of elliptic curve pairs using BLS signatures—as specified in the IETF draft BLS specification—for cryptographically assuring that a specific Eth2 validator has actually verified a particular transaction.[34][35]

Unlike most other DLP systems (where it is possible to use the same procedure for squaring and multiplication), the EC addition is significantly different for doubling (P = Q) and general addition (PQ) depending on the coordinate system used. Consequently, it is important to counteract side-channel attacks (e.g., timing or simple/differential power analysis attacks) using, for example, fixed pattern window (a.k.a. comb) methods[clarification needed][36] (note that this does not increase computation time). Alternatively one can use an Edwards curve; this is a special family of elliptic curves for which doubling and addition can be done with the same operation.[37] Another concern for ECC-systems is the danger of fault attacks, especially when running on smart cards.[38]

Cryptographic experts have expressed concerns that the National Security Agency has inserted a kleptographic backdoor into at least one elliptic curve-based pseudo random generator.[39] Internal memos leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggest that the NSA put a backdoor in the Dual EC DRBG standard.[40] One analysis of the possible backdoor concluded that an adversary in possession of the algorithm's secret key could obtain encryption keys given only 32 bytes of PRNG output.[41]

The SafeCurves project has been launched in order to catalog curves that are easy to securely implement and are designed in a fully publicly verifiable way to minimize the chance of a backdoor.[42]

Shor's algorithm can be used to break elliptic curve cryptography by computing discrete logarithms on a hypothetical quantum computer. The latest quantum resource estimates for breaking a curve with a 256-bit modulus (128-bit security level) are 2330 qubits and 126 billion Toffoli gates.[43] In comparison, using Shor's algorithm to break the RSA algorithm requires 4098 qubits and 5.2 trillion Toffoli gates for a 2048-bit RSA key, suggesting that ECC is an easier target for quantum computers than RSA. All of these figures vastly exceed any quantum computer that has ever been built, and estimates place the creation of such computers at a decade or more away.[citation needed][44]

Supersingular Isogeny Diffie–Hellman Key Exchange provides a post-quantum secure form of elliptic curve cryptography by using isogenies to implement Diffie–Hellman key exchanges. This key exchange uses much of the same field arithmetic as existing elliptic curve cryptography and requires computational and transmission overhead similar to many currently used public key systems.[45]

In August 2015, the NSA announced that it planned to transition "in the not distant future" to a new cipher suite that is resistant to quantum attacks. "Unfortunately, the growth of elliptic curve use has bumped up against the fact of continued progress in the research on quantum computing, necessitating a re-evaluation of our cryptographic strategy."[3]

When ECC is used in virtual machines, an attacker may use an invalid curve to get a complete PDH private key.[46]

At least one ECC scheme (ECMQV) and some implementation techniques are covered by patents.