Desktop version

Home arrow Computer Science

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font


<<   CONTENTS   >>

Information security and cryptography

The concept of information will be taken to be an understood quantity. To introduce cryptography, an understanding of issues related to information security in general is necessary. Information security manifests itself in many ways according to the situation and requirement. Regardless of who is involved, to one degree or another, all parties to a transaction must have confidence that certain objectives associated with information security have been met. Some of these objectives are listed in Table 1.1.

Over the centuries, an elaborate set of protocols and mechanisms has been created to deal with information security issues when the information is conveyed by physical documents. Often the objectives of information security cannot solely be achieved through mathematical algorithms and protocols alone, but require procedural techniques and abidance of laws to achieve the desired result. For example, privacy of letters is provided by sealed envelopes delivered by an accepted mail service. The physical security of the envelope is, for practical necessity, limited and so laws are enacted which make it a criminal

privacy

or confidentiality

keeping information secret from all but those who are authorized to see it.

data integrity

ensuring information has not been altered by unauthorized or unknown means.

entity authentication or identification

corroboration of the identity of an entity (e.g., a person, a computer terminal, a credit card, etc.).

message

authentication

corroborating the source of information; also known as data origin authentication.

signature

a means to bind information to an entity.

authorization

conveyance, to another entity, of official sanction to do or be something.

validation

a means to provide timeliness of authorization to use or manipulate information or resources.

access control

restricting access to resources to privileged entities.

certification

endorsement of information by a trusted entity.

timestamping

recording the time of creation or existence of information.

witnessing

verifying the creation or existence of information by an entity other than the creator.

receipt

acknowledgement that information has been received.

confirmation

acknowledgement that sendees have been provided.

ownership

a means to provide an entity with the legal right to use or transfer a resource to others.

anonymity

concealing the identity of an entity involved in some process.

non-repudiation

preventing the denial of previous commitments or actions.

revocation

retraction of certification or authorization.

Table 1.1: Some information security objectives.

offense to open mail for which one is not authorized. It is sometimes the case that security is achieved not through the information itself but through the physical document recording it. For example, paper currency requires special inks and material to prevent counterfeiting.

Conceptually, the way information is recorded has not changed dramatically over time. Whereas information was typically stored and transmitted on paper, much of it now resides on magnetic media and is transmitted via telecommunications systems, some wireless. What has changed dramatically is the ability to copy and alter information. One can make thousands of identical copies of a piece of information stored electronically and each is indistinguishable from the original. With information on paper, this is much more difficult. What is needed then for a society where information is mostly stored and transmitted in electronic form is a means to ensure information security which is independent of the physical medium recording or conveying it and such that the objectives of information security rely solely on digital information itself.

One of the fundamental tools used in information security is the signature. It is a building block for many other services such as non-repudiation, data origin authentication, identification, and witnessing, to mention a few. Having learned the basics in writing, an individual is taught how to produce a handwritten signature for the purpose of identification. At contract age the signature evolves to take on a very integral part of the person’s identity. This signature is intended to be unique to the individual and serve as a means to identify, authorize, and validate. With electronic information the concept of a signature needs to be redressed; it cannot simply be something unique to the signer and independent of the information signed. Electronic replication of it is so simple that appending a signature to a document not signed by the originator of the signature is almost a triviality.

Analogues of the “paper protocols” currently in use are required. Hopefully these new electronic based protocols are at least as good as those they replace. There is a unique opportunity for society to introduce new and more efficient ways of ensuring information security. Much can be learned from the evolution of the paper based system, mimicking those aspects which have served us well and removing the inefficiencies.

Achieving information security in an electronic society requires a vast array of technical and legal skills. There is, however, no guarantee that all of the information security objectives deemed necessary can be adequately met. The technical means is provided through cryptography.

1.1 Definition Cryptography is the study of mathematical techniques related to aspects of information security such as confidentiality, data integrity, entity authentication, and data origin authentication.

Cryptography is not the only means of providing information security, but rather one set of techniques.

Cryptographic goals

Of all the information security objectives listed in Table 1.1, the following four form a framework upon which the others will be derived: (1) privacy or confidentiality (§1.5,§1.8); (2) data integrity (§1.9); (3) authentication (§1.7); and (4) non-repudiation (§1.6).

  • 1. Confidentiality is a service used to keep the content of information from all but those authorized to have it. Secrecy is a term synonymous with confidentiality and privacy. There are numerous approaches to providing confidentiality, ranging from physical protection to mathematical algorithms which render data unintelligible.
  • 2. Data integrity is a service which addresses the unauthorized alteration of data. To assure data integrity, one must have the ability to detect data manipulation by unauthorized parties. Data manipulation includes sitch things as insertion, deletion, and substitution.
  • 3. Authentication is a sendee related to identification. This function applies to both entities and information itself. Two parties entering into a communication should identify each other. Information delivered over a channel should be authenticated as to origin, date of origin, data content, time sent, etc. For these reasons this aspect of cryptography is usually subdivided into two major classes: entity authentication and data origin authentication. Data origin authentication implicitly provides data integrity (for if a message is modified, the source has changed).
  • 4. Non-repudiation is a service which prevents an entity from denying previous commitments or actions. When disputes arise due to an entity denying that certain actions were taken, a means to resolve the situation is necessary. For example, one entity may authorize the purchase of property by another entity and later deny such authorization was granted. A procedure involving a trusted third party is needed to resolve the dispute.

A fundamental goal of cryptography is to adequately address these four areas in both theory and practice. Cryptography is about the prevention and detection of cheating and other malicious activities.

This book describes a number of basic cryptographic tools (primitives) used to provide information security. Examples of primitives include encryption schemes (§1.5 and §1.8), hash functions (§1.9), and digital signature schemes (§ 1.6). Figure 1.1 provides a schematic listing of the primitives considered and how they relate. Many of these will be briefly introduced in this chapter, with detailed discussion left to later chapters. These primitives should

A taxonomy of cryptographic primitives

Figure 1.1: A taxonomy of cryptographic primitives.

be evaluated with respect to various criteria such as:

  • 1. level of security’. This is usually difficult to quantify. Often it is given in terms of the number of operations required (using the best methods currently known) to defeat the intended objective. Typically the level of security is defined by an upper bound on the amount of work necessary to defeat the objective. This is sometimes called the work factor (see §1.13.4).
  • 2. functionality. Primitives will need to be combined to meet various information security objectives. Which primitives are most effective for a given objective will be determined by the basic properties of the primitives.
  • 3. methods of operation. Primitives, when applied in various ways and with various inputs, will typically exhibit different char acteristics; thus, one primitive could provide very different functionality depending on its mode of operation or usage.
  • 4. performance. This refers to the efficiency of a primitive in a particular mode of operation. (For example, an encryption algorithm may be rated by the number of bits per second which it can encrypt.)
  • 5. ease of implementation. This refers to the difficulty of realizing the primitive in a practical instantiation. This might include the complexity of implementing the primitive in either a software or hardware environment.

The relative importance of various criteria is very much dependent on the application and resources available. For example, in an environment where computing power is limited one may have to trade off a very high level of security for better performance of the system as a whole.

Cryptography, over the ages, has been an art practised by many who have devised ad hoc techniques to meet some of the information security requirements. The last twenty years have been a period of transition as the discipline moved from an art to a science. There are now several international scientific conferences devoted exclusively to cryptography and also an international scientific organization, the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR), aimed at fostering research in the area.

This book is about cryptography: the theory, the practice, and the standards.

 
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics