Section: Research Program

Curve-Based cryptology

Jacobians of curves are excellent candidates for cryptographic groups when constructing efficient instances of public-key cryptosystems. Diffie–Hellman key exchange is an instructive example.

Suppose Alice and Bob want to establish a secure communication channel. Essentially, this means establishing a common secret key, which they will then use for encryption and decryption. Some decades ago, they would have exchanged this key in person, or through some trusted intermediary; in the modern, networked world, this is typically impossible, and in any case completely unscalable. Alice and Bob may be anonymous parties who want to do e-business, for example, in which case they cannot securely meet, and they have no way to be sure of each other's identities. Diffie–Hellman key exchange solves this problem. First, Alice and Bob publicly agree on a cryptographic group G with a generator P (of order N); then Alice secretly chooses an integer a from [1..N], and sends aP to Bob. In the meantime, Bob secretly chooses an integer b from [1..N], and sends bP to Alice. Alice then computes a(bP), while Bob computes b(aP); both have now computed abP, which becomes their shared secret key. The security of this key depends on the difficulty of computing abP given P, aP, and bP; this is the Computational Diffie–Hellman Problem (CDHP). In practice, the CDHP corresponds to the Discrete Logarithm Problem (DLP), which is to determine a given P and aP.

This simple protocol has been in use, with only minor modifications, since the 1970s. The challenge is to create examples of groups G with a relatively compact representation and an efficiently computable group law, and such that the DLP in G is hard (ideally approaching the exponential difficulty of the DLP in an abstract group). The Pohlig–Hellman reduction shows that the DLP in G is essentially only as hard as the DLP in its largest prime-order subgroup. We therefore look for compact and efficient groups of prime order.

The classic example of a group suitable for the Diffie–Hellman protocol is the multiplicative group of a finite field 𝐅q. There are two problems that render its usage somewhat less than ideal. First, it has too much structure: we have a subexponential Index Calculus attack on the DLP in this group, so while it is very hard, the DLP falls a long way short of the exponential difficulty of the DLP in an abstract group. Second, there is only one such group for each q: its subgroup treillis depends only on the factorization of q-1, and requiring q-1 to have a large prime factor eliminates many convenient choices of q.

This is where Jacobians of algebraic curves come into their own. First, elliptic curves and Jacobians of genus 2 curves do not have a subexponential index calculus algorithm: in particular, from the point of view of the DLP, a generic elliptic curve is currently as strong as a generic group of the same size. Second, they provide some diversity: we have many degrees of freedom in choosing curves over a fixed 𝐅q, with a consequent diversity of possible cryptographic group orders. Furthermore, an attack which leaves one curve vulnerable may not necessarily apply to other curves. Third, viewing a Jacobian as a geometric object rather than a pure group allows us to take advantage of a number of special features of Jacobians. These features include efficiently computable pairings, geometric transformations for optimised group laws, and the availability of efficiently computable non-integer endomorphisms for accelerated encryption and decryption.