Three types of cryptography:
- secret-key,
- public key,
- hash function.
Secret Key Cryptography
Secret key cryptography methods employ a single key for both encryption and decryption. As shown in Figure 1A, the sender uses the key to encrypt the plaintext and sends the ciphertext to the receiver. The receiver applies the same key to decrypt the message and recover the plaintext. Because a single key is used for both functions, secret key cryptography is also called symmetric encryption.
Public Key Cryptography
Public key cryptography has been said to be the most significant new development in cryptography in the last 300-400 years. Modern PKC was first described publicly by Stanford University professor Martin Hellman and graduate student Whitfield Diffie in 1976. Their paper described a two-key crypto system in which two parties could engage in a secure communication over a non-secure communications channel without having to share a secret key.
PKC depends upon the existence of so-called one-way functions, or mathematical functions that are easy to compute whereas their inverse function is relatively difficult to compute. Let me give you two simple examples:
- Multiplication vs. factorization: Suppose you have two prime numbers, 3 and 7, and you need to calculate the product; it should take almost no time to calculate that value, which is 21. Now suppose, instead, that you have a number that is a product of two primes, 21, and you need to determine those prime factors. You will eventually come up with the solution but whereas calculating the product took milliseconds, factoring will take longer. The problem becomes much harder if we start with primes that have, say, 400 digits or so, because the product will have ~800 digits.
- Exponentiation vs. logarithms: Suppose you take the number 3 to the 6th power; again, it is relatively easy to calculate 36 = 729. But if you start with the number 729 and need to determine the two integers, x and y so that logx 729 = y, it will take longer to find the two values.
The Significance of Key Length
In a 1998 article in the industry literature, a writer made the claim that 56-bit keys did not provide as adequate protection for DES at that time as they did in 1975 because computers were 1000 times faster in 1998 than in 1975. Therefore, the writer went on, we needed 56,000-bit keys in 1998 instead of 56-bit keys to provide adequate protection. The conclusion was then drawn that because 56,000-bit keys are infeasible (true), we should accept the fact that we have to live with weak cryptography (false!). The major error here is that the writer did not take into account that the number of possible key values double whenever a single bit is added to the key length; thus, a 57-bit key has twice as many values as a 56-bit key (because 257 is two times 256). In fact, a 66-bit key would have 1024 times more values than a 56-bit key.