Cryptography: RSA Algorithm
The Issue of Privacy
The growth of the Internet and electronic commerce have brought to the
forefront the issue of privacy in electronic communication. Larges
volumes of personal and sensitive information are electronically
transmitted and stored every day. What guarantees does one have that
a message sent to another person is not intercepted and read
without their knowledge or consent? Tools to ensure the privacy and
confidentiality of paper-based communication have existed for a long
time. Similar tools exist in the electronic communications arena.
Encryption is the standard method for making a communication private.
Anyone wanting to send a private message to another user encrypts
(enciphers) the message before transmitting it. Only the intended
recipient knows how to correctly decrypt (decipher) the message.
Anyone who was "eavesdropping" on the communication would only see the
encrypted message. Because they would not know how to decrypt it
successfully, the message would make no sense to them. As such,
privacy can be ensured in electronic communication.
The following definitions are provided in Advanced Concepts in
- The intelligible message which will be converted into an unintelligible (encrypted) message
- A message in encrypted form
- The process of converting a plaintext message into a ciphertext message
- The process of converting a ciphertext message into a plaintext message
- A parameter used in the encryption and decryption process.
- A system to encrypt and decrypt information
- Symmetric Cryptosystem
- A cryptosystem that uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt information
- Asymmetric Cryptosystem
- A cryptosystem that uses one key to encrypt and a different key
- The use of cryptosystems to maintain the confidentiality of information
- The study of breaking cryptosystems
Overview of Encryption and Public-Key Cryptosystems
Modern cryptosystems are typically classified as either public-key or
private-key. Private-key encryption methods, such as the Data Encryption
Standard(DES), use the same key to both encrypt and decrypt data. The
key must be known only to the parties who are authorized to encrypt
and decrypt a particular message. Public-key cryptosystems, on the
other hand, use different keys to encrypt and decrypt data.
The public-key is globally available. The private-key is kept
The Key Distribution Problem
Private-key systems suffer from the key distribution problem.
In order for a secure communication to occur, the key must first be
securely sent to the other party. An unsecure channel such as a data
network can not be used. Couriers or other secure means are typically
used. Public-key systems do not suffer from this problem because of
their use of two different keys. Messages are encrypted with a public
key and decrypted with a private key. No keys need to be
distributed for a secure communication to occur.
A user wishing to exchange encrypted messages using a public-key
cryptosystem would place their public encryption procedure, E, in a
public file. The user's corresponding decryption procedure, D, is kept
confidential. Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman provide four properties
that the encryption and decryption procedures have:
As Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman point out, if a procedure satisfying
property (3) is used, it is extremely impractical for another user
to try to decipher the message by trying all possible messages
until they find one such that E(M) = C.
- Deciphering the enciphered form of a message M yields M. That
is, D(E(M)) = M
- E and D are easy to compute.
- Publicly revealing E does not reveal an easy way to
compute D. As such, only the user can decrypt messages which were
encrypted with E. Likewise, only the user can compute D efficiently.
- Deciphering a message M and then enciphering it results in M.
That is, E(D(M)) = M
A function satisfying properties (1) - (3) is called a "trap-door
one-way function". It is called "one-way" because it is easy to compute in
one direction but not the other. It is called "trap-door" because the
inverse functions are easy to compute once certain private,
"trap-door" information is known.
The Public-Key Cryptosystem Encryption and Decryption Process
Suppose user A wants to send a private message, M, to user B.
- User A gets User B's public key from some public source.
- User A encrypts message M using B's public key. This produces a
ciphertext message, C
- Ciphertext message C is sent over some communication channel
- Upon receipt, user B decrypts message C using their private key.
This results in the original message M.
Property (4) of public-key cryptosystems allows a user to digitally
"sign" a message they send. This digital signature provides proof
that the message originated from the designated sender. In order to
be effective, digital signature need to be both
message-dependent as well as signer-dependent. This
would prevent electronic "cutting and pasting" as well as modification
of the original message by the recipient.
Suppose user A wanted to send a "digitally-signed" message, M, to user
User B cannot alter the original message or use the signature with any
other message. To do so would require user B to know how to decrypt a
message using A's decryption procedure.
- User A applies their decryption procedure to M. This results in
- User A applies the encryption procedure of user B to C. This
results in message S.
- Ciphertext message S is sent over some communication channel
- Upon receipt, user B applies their decryption procedure to S.
This results in ciphertext message C.
- User B applies user A's encryption procedure to message C. This
results in the original message, M.
The RSA Algorithm
The Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) algorithm is one of the most popular
and secure public-key encryption methods. The algorithm capitalizes on the fact
that there is no efficient way to factor very large (100-200 digit)
Using an encryption key (e,n), the algorithm is as follows:
The encryption key (e,n) is made public. The decryption
key (d,n) is kept private by the user.
- Represent the message as an integer between 0 and (n-1). Large
messages can be broken up into a number of blocks. Each block would
then be represented by an integer in the same range.
- Encrypt the message by raising it to the eth power modulo
n. The result is a ciphertext message C.
- To decrypt ciphertext message C, raise it to another power
d modulo n
How to Determine Appropriate Values for e, d, and
Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman provide efficient algorithms for each
- Choose two very large (100+ digit) prime numbers. Denote these
numbers as p and q.
- Set n equal to p * q.
- Choose any large integer, d, such that
GCD(d, ((p-1) * (q-1))) = 1
- Find e such that e * d = 1 (mod ((p-1)
How secure is a communication using RSA?
Cryptographic methods cannot be proven secure. Instead, the only test
is to see if someone can figure out how to decipher a message without
having direct knowledge of the decryption key. The RSA method's
security rests on the fact that it is extremely difficult to factor
very large numbers. If 100 digit numbers are used for p and
q, the resulting n will be approximately 200 digits.
The fastest known factoring algorithm would take far too long for an
attacker to ever break the code. Other methods for determining
d without factoring n are equally as difficult.
Any cryptographic technique which can resist a concerted attack is
regarded as secure. At this point in time, the RSA algorithm is
Links to Other RSA Information
RSA Data Security Home Page
- Bidzos, Jim, "Threats to Privacy and Public Keys for Protection",
COMPCON Spring '91 Digest of Papers, IEEE Computer Society
Press, p. 189-94
- Singhal, Mukesh and Shivaratri, Niranjan G., Advanced Concepts
in Operating Systems, McGraw-Hill, p. 405
- Rivest, R.L., Shamir, A., and Adleman, L., "A Method for Obtaining
Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems", Communications of
the ACM, Vol 21, No. 2, February 1978, p. 120-26
- Rivest et. al.