Sunday, October 18, 2015

52 Things: Number 52: Pick an advanced application concept such as e-Voting, Auctions or Multi-Party Computation. What are the rough security requirements of such a system?

This is the last of our 52 things which we think every first year PhD student in Cryptography should know. And as you may have gathered over the last 52 posts, we expect students to know all sorts of aspects ranging from theory to practice. But the key thing is that you need to consider in cryptography not only security against players who play by the rules, but also security against players who do not play by the rules. Lets examine this in the context of Voting, Auctions and Multi-Party Computation.

Let us first discuss what we mean by these three applications. In voting we have voters who select candidates according to some voting scheme (first-past-the-post, alternative-vote, approval voting or whatever). The vote should remain secret, only valid voters can vote, only one vote per candidate is allowed, votes must be valid (for a real candidate for example), the final result must be correct, voters must not be able to be coerced, the list of security requirements are quite long. 

For auctions we may want bids to be private, we may not trust the auctioneer, there may be multiple items, with multiple possible final prices, the selection of the winning bid/price will be due to some algorithm, the final output may need to be auditable.

For Multi-Party Computation (by which we mean a computation of a function on the private inputs of a set of parties) the security requirements are simpler in that we want only the output of the function to be revealed, and nothing about the inputs (bar what can be computed from the output). However, whilst this is a simpler goal, the functionality is wider than for auctions and voting in that we require ANY function should be able to be computed.

What makes these operations interesting is that we EXPECT the bad guy to be part of the protocol. Compare this with simple encryption, where a message from Alice to Bob is sent. In encryption we expect Alice and Bob to be trustworthy and the bad guy is the person on the outside looking in. For voting, auctions and MPC we do not trust anybody, the bad guy could be a voter trying to cast multiple votes, a vote tallier trying to count the votes incorrectly, a bidder trying to made a winning bid which is not the highest, or an auctioneer trying to work out what the value of a non-winning bid is etc. 

The parties in the protocol do not even need to behave by the rules, i.e. follow the protocol. They could send messages which are produced incorrectly but which "look like" valid ones, but which later produce incorrect results for the protocol. We need to protect against this so called "malicious" behaviour.

There might be a group of bad guys working together to defeat the system, we need to determine how big a coalition of bad guys we can tolerate in our protocol. In MPC there is a big difference between the case when we have an honest majority and a dishonest majority. For honest majority protocols we can ensure that the honest parties always end up with a valid function output. For dishonest majority protocols we cannot stop a dishonest party from terminating the protocol for everyone.

We need to protect against the problem of who goes first or last. A property in the literature called "fairness". For example suppose we have an election with three voters; A, B and C. Suppose the votes are encrypted, player C can ensure that the candidate voted for by A wins (and hence find out who A voted for) by replicating A's vote. This should be protected against. 

The adversary may have a set of parties who it controls at the start of the protocol, a so-called static adversary. Or perhaps as the protocol proceeds the adversary decides which parties it wants to corrupt, a so-called adaptive adversary.

As one can see there are a multitude of security concerns one may have in such advanced protocols, and indeed a multitude of security results. Indeed each application domain gives rise to different security properties that one may require. Given the wide range of possible application protocols this means a never ending series of problems for cryptography to solve; and thus a never ending supply of problems for cryptography PhD students to solve.

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