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In a tutorial on average-case complexity that I gave at FOCS 2008, I mentioned four of my favorite open questions in the theory. I have some progress to report on one of the questions (#3 in this post), and on two related problems.

The question is whether a certain exponential loss is necessary in Levin’s proof that there are problems that are “NP-complete on average.” The answer is yes, it is necessary, unless the polynomial hierarchy collapses. The two related problems are whether related exponential losses in the analysis of Levin’s *universal search algorithm* and of Levin’s *universal one-way function* are also necessary. The answers are, respectively, yes unless , and yes relative to an oracle.

This is one of those now fashionable papers whose arguments are “obvious in retrospect.” (I would like to claim, however, that the proof of the result for Levin’s average-case completeness, while obvious in hindsight, is not so obvious without hindsight.) In all three cases, the exponential loss is in terms of the code length of certain programs. The idea in each case is to construct programs that contain in their code information about a specific instance of a problem of interest.

** Summary **

Today we begin a tour of the theory of one-way functions and pseudorandomness.

The highlight of the theory is a proof that if *one-way functions* exist (with good asymptotic security) then pseudorandom permutations exist (with good asymptotic security). We have seen that pseudorandom permutations suffice to do encryption and authentication with extravagantly high levels of security (respectively, CCA security and existential unforgeability under chosen message attack), and it is easy to see that if one-way functions do not exist, then every encryption and authentication scheme suffers from a total break.

Thus the conclusion is a strong “dichotomy” result, saying that either cryptography is fundamentally impossible, or extravagantly high security is possible.

Unfortunately the proof of this result involves a rather inefficient reduction, so the concrete parameters for which the dichotomy holds are rather unrealistic. (One would probably end up with a system requiring gigabyte-long keys and days of processing time for each encryption, with the guarantee that if it is not CCA secure then every 128-bit key scheme suffers a total break.) Nonetheless it is one of the great unifying achievements of the asymptotic theory, and it remains possible that a more effective proof will be found.

In this lecture and the next few ones we shall prove the weaker statement that if *one-way permutations* exist then pseudorandom permutations exist. This will be done in a series of four steps each involving reasonable concrete bounds. A number of combinatorial and number-theoretic problems which are believed to be intractable give us highly plausible candidate one-way permutations. Overall, we can show that if any of those well-defined and well-understood problems are hard, then we can get secure encryption and authentication with schemes that are slow but not entirely impractical. If, for example, solving discrete log with a modulus of the order of is hard, then there is a CCA-secure encryption scheme requiring a -bit key and fast enough to carry email, instant messages and probably voice communication. (Though probably too slow to encrypt disk access or video playback.)

** Summary **

Today we begin a tour of the theory of one-way functions and pseudorandomness.

The highlight of the theory is a proof that if *one-way functions* exist (with good asymptotic security) then pseudorandom permutations exist (with good asymptotic security). We have seen that pseudorandom permutations suffice to do encryption and authentication with extravagantly high levels of security (respectively, CCA security and existential unforgeability under chosen message attack), and it is easy to see that if one-way functions do not exist, then every encryption and authentication scheme suffers from a total break.

Thus the conclusion is a strong “dichotomy” result, saying that either cryptography is fundamentally impossible, or extravagantly high security is possible.

Unfortunately the proof of this result involves a rather inefficient reduction, so the concrete parameters for which the dichotomy holds are rather unrealistic. (One would probably end up with a system requiring gigabyte-long keys and days of processing time for each encryption, with the guarantee that if it is not CCA secure then every 128-bit key scheme suffers a total break.) Nonetheless it is one of the great unifying achievements of the asymptotic theory, and it remains possible that a more effective proof will be found.

In this lecture and the next few ones we shall prove the weaker statement that if *one-way permutations* exist then pseudorandom permutations exist. This will be done in a series of four steps each involving reasonable concrete bounds. A number of combinatorial and number-theoretic problems which are believed to be intractable give us highly plausible candidate one-way permutations. Overall, we can show that if any of those well-defined and well-understood problems are hard, then we can get secure encryption and authentication with schemes that are slow but not entirely impractical. If, for example, solving discrete log with a modulus of the order of is hard, then there is a CCA-secure encryption scheme requiring a -bit key and fast enough to carry email, instant messages and probably voice communication. (Though probably too slow to encrypt disk access or video playback.)

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