1. What is RSA?

RSA is a public-key cryptosystem for both encryption and authentication; it was invented in 1977 by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman [RSA78]. It works as follows: take two large primes, p and q, and find their product n = pq ; n is called the modulus. Choose a number, e, less than n and relatively prime to (p-1)(q-1), which means that e and (p-1)(q-1) have no common factors except 1. Find another number d such that (ed - 1) is divisible by (p-1)(q-1). The values e and d are called the public and private exponents, respectively. The public key is the pair (n,e); the private key is (n,d). The factors p and q maybe kept with the private key, or destroyed.

2. How Fast is RSA?

An "RSA operation," whether for encrypting or decrypting, signing or verifying, is essentially a modular exponentiation, which can be performed by a series of modular multiplications.

In practical applications, it is common to choose a small public exponent for the public key; in fact, entire groups of users can use the same public exponent, each with a different modulus. (There are some restrictions on the prime factors of the modulus when the public exponent is fixed.) This makes encryption faster than decryption and verification faster than signing. With typical modular exponentiation algorithms, public-key operations take O(k2) steps, private-key operations take O( k3) steps, and key generation takes O(k4) steps, where k is the number of bits in the modulus. ( O-notation refers to the upper bound on the asymptotic running time of an algorithm.) "Fast multiplication" techniques, such as FFT-based methods, require asymptotically fewer steps, though in practice they are not as common due to their great software complexity and the fact that they may actually be slower for typical key sizes.

3. What Would it Take to Break RSA?

There are a few possible interpretations of "breaking RSA." The most damaging would be for an attacker to discover the private key corresponding to a given public key; this would enable the attacker both to read all messages encrypted with the public key and to forge signatures. The obvious way to do this attack is to factor the public modulus, n, into its two prime factors, p and q. From p, q, and e, the public exponent, the attacker can easily get d, the private exponent. The hard part is factoring n; the security of RSA depends on factoring being difficult. In fact, the task of recovering the private key is equivalent to the task of factoring the modulus: you can use d to factor n, as well as use the factorization of n to find d. It should be noted that hardware improvements alone will not weaken RSA, as long as appropriate key lengths are used; in fact, hardware improvements should increase the security of RSA.

4. Are Strong Primes Necessary in RSA?

In the literature pertaining to RSA, it has often been suggested that in choosing a key pair, one should use so-called "strong" primes p and q to generate the modulus n. Strong primes are those with certain properties that make the product n hard to factor by specific factoring methods; such properties have included, for example, the existence of a large prime factor of p-1 and a large prime factor of p+1. The reason for these concerns is that some factoring methods are especially suited to primes p such that p -1 or p+1 has only small factors; strong primes are resistant to these attacks.

5. How Large a Modulus (Key) Should be Used in RSA?

The best size for an RSA modulus depends on one's security needs. The larger the modulus, the greater the security, but also the slower the RSA operations. One should choose a modulus length upon consideration, first, of one's security needs, such as the value of the protected data and how long it needs to be protected, and, second, of how powerful one's potential enemies are.

Odlyzko's paper considers the security of RSA key sizes based on factoring techniques available in 1995 and the ability to tap large computational resources via computer networks. A specific assessment of the security of 512-bit RSA keys shows that one may be factored for less than \$1,000,000 in cost and eight months of effort in 1997 [Rob95d]. It is believed that 512-bit keys no longer provide sufficient security with the advent of new factoring algorithms and distributed computing. Such keys should not be used after 1997 or 1998. Recommended key sizes are now 768 bits for personal use, 1024 bits for corporate use, and 2048 bits for extremely valuable keys like the key pair of a certifying authority. A 768-bit key is expected to be secure until at least the year 2004.

6. How Large Should the Primes be?

The two primes, p and q, which compose the modulus, should be of roughly equal length; this will make the modulus harder to factor than if one of the primes was very small. Thus if one chooses to use a 768-bit modulus, the primes should each have length approximately 384 bits. If the two primes are extremely close (identical except for, say, 100 - 200 bits), there is a potential security risk, but the probability that two randomly chosen primes are so close is negligible.

7. Can Users of RSA run out of Distinct Primes?

There are enough prime numbers that RSA users will never run out of them. The Prime Number Theorem states that the number of primes less than or equal to n is asymptotically n/log n. This means that the number of prime numbers of length 512 bits or less is about 10150, which is a number greater than the number of atoms in the known universe.

8. How do You Know if a Number is Prime?

It is generally recommended to use probabilistic primality testing, which is much quicker than actually proving that a number is prime. One can use a probabilistic test that determines whether a number is prime with arbitrarily small probability of error, say, less than 2-100.

9. How is RSA Used for Authentication in Practice? What are RSA Digital Signatures?

RSA is usually combined with a hash function to sign a message.

Suppose Alice wishes to send a signed message to Bob. She applies a hash function to the message to create a message digest, which serves as a "digital fingerprint" of the message. She then encrypts the message digest with her RSA private key; this is the digital signature, which she sends to Bob along with the message itself. Bob, upon receiving the message and signature, decrypts the signature with Alice's public key to recover the message digest. He then hashes the message with the same hash function Alice used and compares the result to the message digest decrypted from the signature. If they are exactly equal, the signature has been successfully verified and he can be confident that the message did indeed come from Alice. If they are not equal, then the message either originated elsewhere or was altered after it was signed, and he rejects the message. With the method just described, anybody read the message and verify the signature. This may not be applicable to situations where Alice wishes to retain the secrecy of the document. In this case she may wish to sign the document then encrypt it using Bob's public key. Bob will then need to decrypt using his private key and verify the signature on the recovered message using Alice's public key. A third party can also verify the signature at this stage.

10. What are the Alternatives to RSA?

Many other public-key cryptosystems have been proposed, as a look through the proceedings of the annual Crypto, Eurocrypt, and Asiacrypt conferences quickly reveals. Some of the public-key cryptosystems will be discussed in previous Question.

A mathematical problem called the knapsack problem was the basis for several systems, but these have lost favor because several versions were broken. Another system, designed by ElGamal, is based on the discrete logarithm problem. The ElGamal system was, in part, the basis for several later signature methods, including one by Schnorr [Sch90], which in turn was the basis for DSS, the Digital Signature Standard. The ElGamal system has been used successfully in applications; it is slower for encryption and verification than RSA and its signatures are larger than RSA signatures.

In 1976, before RSA, Diffie and Hellman proposed a system for key exchange only; it permits secure exchange of keys in an otherwise conventional secret-key system. This system is in use today.

11. Is RSA Currently in Use Today?

The use of RSA is practically ubiquitous today. It is currently used in a wide variety of products, platforms, and industries around the world. It is found in many commercial software products and is planned to be in many more. It is built into current operating systems by Microsoft, Apple, Sun, and Novell. In hardware, RSA can be found in secure telephones, on Ethernet network cards, and on smart cards. In addition, RSA is incorporated into all of the major protocols for secure Internet communications, including SSL, S-HTTP, SEPP, S/MIME, S/WAN, STT and PCT. It is also used internally in many institutions, including branches of the U.S. government, major corporations, national laboratories, and universities.

12. Is RSA an Official Standard Today?

RSA is part of many official standards worldwide. The ISO (International Standards Organization) 9796 standard lists RSA as a compatible cryptographic algorithm, as does the ITU-T X.509 security standard. RSA is part of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) standard, the French financial industry's ETEBAC 5 standard, and the ANSI X9.31 draft standard for the U.S. banking industry. The Australian key management standard, AS2805.6.5.3, also specifies RSA.

13. Is RSA a De Facto Standard?

RSA is the most widely used public-key cryptosystem today and has often been called a de facto standard. Regardless of the official standards, the existence of a de facto standard is extremely important for the development of a digital economy. If one public-key system is used everywhere for authentication, then signed digital documents can be exchanged between users in different nations using different software on different platforms; this interoperability is necessary for a true digital economy to develop. Adoption of RSA has grown to the extent that standards are being written to accommodate RSA. When the U.S. financial industry was developing standards for digital signatures, it first developed ANSI X9.30 to support the federal requirement of using the Digital Signature Standard. They then modified X9.30 to X9.31 with the emphasis on RSA digital signatures to support the de facto standard of financial institutions.

14. Is RSA Patented?

RSA is patented under U.S. Patent 4,405,829, issued September 20, 1983 and held by RSA Data Security, Inc. of Redwood City, California; the patent expires 17 years after issue, in 2000. RSA Data Security has a standard, royalty-based licensing policy which can be modified for special circumstances. The U.S. government can use RSA without a license because it was invented at MIT with partial government funding.

15. Can RSA be Exported from the United States?

Export of RSA falls under the same U.S. laws as all other cryptographic products.

RSA used for authentication is more easily exported than when it is used for privacy. In the former case, export is allowed regardless of key (modulus) size, although the exporter must demonstrate that the product cannot be easily converted to use for encryption. In the case of RSA used for privacy (encryption), the U.S. government generally does not allow export if the key size exceeds 512 bits.

16. What is Authenticated Diffie-Hellman Key Agreement?

The authenticated Diffie-Hellman key agreement protocol, or Station-to-Station (STS) protocol, was developed by Diffie, van Oorschot, and Wiener in 1992 [DVW92] to defeat the middleperson attack on the Diffie-Hellman key agreement protocol. The immunity is achieved by allowing the two parties to authenticate themselves to each other by the use of digital signatures and public-key certificates.

17. What are DSA and DSS?

The Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA) was published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Digital Signature Standard (DSS), which is a part of the U.S. government's Capstone project. DSS was selected by NIST, in cooperation with the NSA, to be the digital authentication standard of the U.S. government. The standard was issued on May 19, 1994.

DSA is based on the discrete logarithm problem and derives from cryptosystems proposed by Schnorr and ElGamal. It is for authentication only. For a detailed description of DSA.

In DSA, signature generation is faster than signature verification, whereas in RSA, signature verification is faster than signature generation (if the public and private exponents, respectively, are chosen for this property, which is the usual case). NIST claims that it is an advantage of DSA that signing is faster, but many people in cryptography think that it is better for verification to be the faster operation.

18. Is DSA Secure?

DSA is based on the difficulty of computing discrete logarithm. The algorithm is generally considered secure when the key size is large enough. DSS was originally proposed by NIST with a fixed 512-bit key size. After much criticism that this is not secure enough especially for long-term security, NIST revised DSS to allow key sizes up to 1024 bits.

The particular form of the discrete logarithm problem used in DSA is to compute discrete logarithms in certain subgroups in the finite field GF(p) for some prime p. The problem was first proposed for cryptographic use in 1989. Even though no attacks have been reported on this form of the discrete logarithm problem, further analysis is necessary to fully understand the difficulty of the problem.

19. Is the Use of DSA Covered by Any Patents?

David Kravitz, former member of the NSA, holds a patent on DSA. Claus P. Schnorr has asserted that his patent covers certain implementations of DSA.

20. What are Special Signature Schemes?

Since the time Diffie and Hellman introduced the concept of digital signatures, many signature schemes have been proposed in cryptographic literature. These schemes can be categorized as either conventional digital signature schemes (e.g., RSA, DSA) or special signature schemes depending on their security features.

In a conventional signature scheme (the original model defined by Diffie and Hellman), we generally assume the following situation:

The signer knows the contents of the message that he has signed.
Anyone who knows the public key of the signer can verify the correctness of the signature at any time without any consent or input from the signer. (Digital signature schemes with this property are called self-authenticating signature schemes.)

21. What is a Blind Signature Scheme?

Blind signature schemes, first introduced by Chaum, allow a person to get a message signed by another party without revealing any information about the message to the other party.

Chaum demonstrated the implementation of this concept using RSA signatures as follows: Suppose Alice has a message m that she wishes to have signed by Bob, and she does not want Bob to learn anything about m. Let (n,e) be Bob's public key and (n,d) be his private key. Alice generates a random value r such that gcd(r, n) = 1 and sends to Bob. The value m' is "blinded" by the random value r, and hence Bob can derive no useful information from it. Bob returns the signed value to Alice. Since s'=rmd mod n, Alice can obtain the true signature s of m by computing. Now Alice's message has a signature she could not have obtained on her own. This signature scheme is secure provided that factoring and root extraction remain difficult. However, regardless of the status of these problems the signature scheme is unconditionally "blind" since r is random. The random r does not allow the signer to learn about the message even if the signer can solve the underlying hard problems.

22. What is a Designated Confirmer Signature?

A designated confirmer signature [Cha94] strikes a balance between self-authenticating digital signatures and zero-knowledge proofs. While the former allows anybody to verify a signature, the latter can only convince one recipient at a time of the authenticity of a given document, and only through interaction with the signer. A designated confirmer signature allows certain designated parties to confirm the authenticity of a document without the need for the signer's input. At the same time, without the aid of either the signer or the designated parties, it is not possible to verify the authenticity of a given document. Chaum developed implementations of designated confirmer signatures with one or more confirmers using RSA digital signatures.

23. What is a Fail-stop Signature Scheme?

A fail-stop signature scheme is a type of signature devised by van Heyst and Pederson [VP92] to protect against the possibility that an enemy may be able to forge a person's signature. It is a variation of the one-time signature scheme, in which only a single message can be signed and protected by a given key at a time. The scheme is based on the discrete logarithm problem. In particular, if an enemy can forge a signature, then the actual signer can prove that forgery has taken place by demonstrating the solution of a supposedly hard problem. Thus the forger's ability to solve that problem is transferred to the actual signer. (The term "fail-stop" refers to the fact that a signer can detect and stop failures, i.e., forgeries. Note that if the enemy obtains an actual copy of the signer's private key, forgery cannot be detected. What the scheme detects are forgeries based on cryptanalysis.)

24. What is a Group Signature?

A group signature, introduced by Chaum and van Heijst, allows any member of a group to digitally sign a document in a manner such that a verifier can confirm that it came from the group, but does not know which individual in the group signed the document. The protocol allows for the identity of the signer to be discovered, in case of disputes, by a designated group authority who has some auxiliary information. Unfortunately, each time a member of the group signs a document, a new key pair has to be generated for the signer. The generation of new key pairs causes the length of both the group members' secret keys and the designated authority's auxiliary information to grow. This tends to cause the scheme to become unwieldy when used by a group to sign numerous messages or when used for an extended period of time. Some improvements have been made in the efficiency of this scheme.