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Elvis Chidera

How to Share a Secret — Paper Summary

summary, paper2 min read

Author: Adi Shamir

Date: 1979

Link: PDF

Note: This note is augmented with paragraphs from Wikipedia.

  1. The author shows how to divide data D into n pieces in such a way that D is easily reconstructable from any k pieces, but even complete knowledge of k - 1 pieces reveals absolutely no information about D (i.e: all its possible values are equally likely).
  2. Such a scheme is called a (k, n) threshold scheme.
  3. Efficient threshold schemes can be used in the management of cryptographic keys.
  4. By using a (k, n) threshold scheme with n = 2k - 1 we get a very robust key management scheme: We can recover the original key even when [n / 2] = k - 1 of the n pieces are destroyed, but our opponents cannot reconstruct the key even when security breaches expose [n / 2] = k - 1 of the remaining k pieces.

  5. E.g:
    • k = 3
    • n = 2k - 1 = 2(3) - 1 = 5
    • n / 2 = 2.5 = 2 (rounded down) = k - 1
    • If 2 (n / 2) pieces are destroyed, the remaining 3 (k) pieces can be used to recover the key.
    • If 2 (n / 2) pieces are exposed, the opponent can’t reconstruct the key.
  6. The scheme proposed in this paper is based on polynomial interpolation: given k points in the 2-dimensional plane (x₁, y₁), … ,(xₖ, yₖ) with distinct xᵢ's , there is one and only one polynomial q(x) of degree k - 1such that q(x) =yᵢ for all i.
  7. The essential idea of the scheme is based on the Lagrange interpolation theorem , specifically that k points is enough to uniquely determine a polynomial of degree less than or equal to k − 1. For instance:

    1* `2` [points]( are sufficient to define a [line](
    2* `3` points are sufficient to define a [parabola](
    3* `4` points to define a [cubic curve]( and
    4* so forth. — [Wikipedia](
  8. Assume that the data D is (or can be made) a number.
  9. To divide D into pieces Dᵢ:
    • Pick a random k - 1 degree polynomial: q(x) = a₀ + a₁x + ... aₖ₋₁ xᵏ⁻¹ in which a₀=D, and
    • Evaluate: D₁= q(1), … ,Dᵢ= q(i), … ,Dₙ = q(n).
  10. Given any subset of k of these Dᵢ values (together with their identifying indices), the coefficients of q(x) can be found by interpolation, and then evaluate D = q(O). Knowledge of just k - 1 of these values, on the other hand, does not suffice in order to calculate D.
  11. Example calculation using integer arithmetic:
    • D = 1234
    • n = 6
    • k = 3
    • k - 1 = 2 numbers are taken at random. Let them be 166 and 94.
    • This yields coefficients:
      • a₀ = 1234 (i.e: the secret)
      • a₁ = 166
      • a₂ = 94
    • The polynomial to produce secret shares (points): q(x) = 1234 + 166x + 94x².
    • Each n participant in the scheme receives a different point from the polynomial:
      • D₁ = (1, 1494)
      • D₂ = (2, 1942)
      • D₃ = (3, 2578)
      • D₄ = (4, 3402)
      • D₅ = (5, 4414)
      • D₆ = (6, 5614)
    • Polynomial interpolation can be used to reconstruct the secret given any 3 point.
  12. Problem of using integer arithmetic:

    Although the simplified version of the method demonstrated above, which uses integer arithmetic rather than finite field arithmetic, works, there is a security problem: An attacker gains information about D with every Dᵢ they find.

  13. This problem can be fixed by using finite field arithmetic. A field of size p ∈ ℙ : p > D, p > n is used.
  14. In practice this is only a small change:
    • A prime p must be chosen that is bigger than the number of participants and every aᵢ (including a₀ = D).
    • The points on the polynomial must also be calculated as (x, q(x) mod p) instead of (x, q(x)).
    • p is publicly known: Everybody who receives a point must also know its value.
  15. Useful properties of the scheme includes:
    • Minimal: The size of each piece does not exceed the size of the original data.
    • Extensible: For any given threshold, shares can be dynamically added or deleted without affecting existing shares.
    • Dynamic: Security can be easily enhanced without changing the secret, but by changing the polynomial occasionally (keeping the same free term) and constructing new shares for the participants.
    • Flexible: In organizations where hierarchy is important, each participant can be issued different numbers of shares according to their importance inside the organization.
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