Mathematical Foundations


Welcome to this short web book on modern cryptographic techniques! My goal in writing this book is primarily to provide an accessible, understandable, centralized place to explain as much about cryptography as I can. I've split this book up into relatively isolated chapters - that being said, reading in order is recommended.

Throughout the chapters, we will go over the classical, everyday cryptography that many of us are used to, and then cover more advanced, modern topics with more specialized applications. Indeed, we are currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts in the cryptographic community with blockchain technology and consumer privacy fuelling much of the excitement. While these facets are indeed interesting and we will draw from them to motivate some of our applications, they are not the focus of this book. We will stick to the cryptography itself.

Specifically, we will first cover private key and public key primitives, and some of the everyday applications of both. Next, we will explore zero knowledge proofs, a technique for proving that a particular statement is true without revealing any other unnecessary information. Following that, we will dive into multiparty computation, a set of protocols in which multiple parties can jointly compute a result over some inputs without revealing the inputs to each other. Lastly (for now), we will explore homomorphic encryption, a set of techniques that allow computation over encrypted data. However before anything else, we must go over some preliminary mathematics, which this article will cover.

Elementary Number Theory

The following is an overview of the algebra and number theory necessary to understand the cryptographic schemes in this book. You can safely skip this section if you're already familiar with elementary number theory. We try to use notation that is common in the literature.

Divisibility and GCDs

Consider two integers \(a,b\in\mathbb{Z}\), where \(\mathbb{Z}\) denotes the set of all integers. We say that \(a\) divides \(b\) if there exists an integer \(c \in \mathbb{Z}\) such that \(a \cdot c = b\). We denote this by \(a \mid b\).

Given integers \(a, b, m \in \mathbb{Z}\). We say that \(a\) and \(b\) are congruent mod \(m\) if there exists an integer \(k\in\mathbb{Z}\) such that \(a + km = b\). In other words, it means that \(a\) and \(b\) differ by a multiple of \(m\), or that when divided by \(m\), they yield the same remainder. We denote this by \(a \equiv b \mod m\).

Recall greatest common divisors (GCDs). Given two integers \(a, b \in\mathbb{Z}\), the GCD of \(a\) and \(b\) is the largest integer \(d\in\mathbb{Z}\) such that \(d \mid a\) and \(d \mid b\). We say that two integers are coprime if their GCD is 1. Calculating the GCD of two integers can be done efficiently using the Euclidean Algorithm, and calculating integers \(s, t\) such that \(s \cdot a + t \cdot b = \gcd(a, b)\) can be done efficiently using the Extended Euclidean Algorithm. We eschew a detailed explanation of either algorithm in favor of the Wikipedia articles - the important thing to know is that calculating GCDs and inverses is efficient.


To allow us to generalize later on, we introduce the notion of a group. A group is defined as a set \(\mathbb{G}\) along with a binary operation \(\otimes: \mathbb{G} \times \mathbb{G} \rightarrow \mathbb{G}\), such that the following three properties hold:

  1. Identity: there exists an identity element \(e\in\mathbb{G}\) such that for any element \(a \in \mathbb{G}\) we have that \(e \otimes a = a \otimes e = a\).
  2. Associativity: for any \(a, b, c \in \mathbb{G}\), we have that \((a \otimes b) \otimes c = a \otimes (b \otimes c)\).
  3. Inverses: for any \(a \in \mathbb{G}\), there exists an inverse element \(b \in \mathbb{G}\) such that \(a \otimes b = b\otimes a = e\). We denote the inverse of \(a\) by \(a^{-1}\).

For example, \(\mathbb{Z}\) under addition (where our operation \(\otimes\) is \(+\)) is a group (the integers are actually much, much richer than a group, but for now consider them as a group). It has identity \(0\), addition is associative, and every integer \(n\) has \(-n\) as its inverse. An example of a non-group could be \(\mathbb{Z}\) under multiplication. While it has an identity element \(1\) and is associative, not every element has a multiplicative inverse. However, if we change our set slightly to be the non-zero rational numbers \(\mathbb{Q}^{\neq 0}\) with multiplication, this again is a group.

The set of integers modulo a prime \(p\) (excluding \(0\)) under multiplication is also a group, denoted as \(\mathbb{Z}_p^* = \{1,2,\dots,p-1\}\). More generally, if you consider the integers from \([1,m-1]\) that are coprime to \(m\), then we can construct a special group called the multiplicative group of units, denoted as \(\mathbb{Z}_m^*=\{a \mid a \in [1,m-1], \gcd(a,m)=1\}\).

Let's verify that \(\mathbb{Z}_m^*\) is indeed a group. Notice that for all \(a \in \mathbb{Z}_m^*\), we have that \(\gcd(a, m) = 1\) by definition. Finding an inverse is as simple as running the Extended Euclidean Algorithm. Taking the relation \(s \cdot a + t\cdot m = 1 \mod m\), we get \(s \cdot a \equiv 1 \mod m\) where \(s\) is the inverse of \(a\). It's worth noting that the \(s\) must necessarily also be coprime to \(m\); otherwise, we wouldn't be able to write 1 as a linear combination using it and \(m\) (see: Bezout's Identity). Identity and associativity clearly hold. Thus, \(\mathbb{Z}_m^*\) containing the set of integers coprime to \(m\) is a group, and will be the group we use for the rest of this section.

Lastly, a cyclic group is a group \(\mathbb{G}\) in which there is some element, \(g\) that generates the whole group; that is, all elements of \(\mathbb{G}\) are some power of \(g\) (for any \(a\in\mathbb{G}\), \(a= g^e\) for some \(e\)). For the group \(\mathbb{Z}\) under addition, and \(\mathbb{Z}_p^*\) (for prime \(p\)) under multiplication, we can assume that some generator exists (this is clear in the case of \(\mathbb{Z}\), but not quite for groups of units modulo prime \(p\)) and use it accordingly.

Fast Powering

We take an aside and consider group elements of the form \(g^e \mod m\). Unfortunately, computing such an element naively by multiplying \(g\) by itself \(e\) times is very inefficient (linear in \(e\)); thankfully, by employing Exponentiation by squaring we can speed this process up exponentially. In short, we notice that \(g^e\) is equivalent to the product of \(g^{b_i}\) where \(b_i\) are the powers of 2 that add up to \(e\). By repeatedly squaring \(g\) and only multiplying our result by the powers of 2 that are included in \(e\), we can compute \(g^e\) in logarithmic time. We eschew a detailed explanation of either algorithm in favor of the Wikipedia article.

Fermat's Little Theorem and Euler's Theorem

We end this section with two more useful results, which we state without proof. Fermat's Little Theorem (FLT) states that given a prime \(p\), it is the case that for any \(a\), \(a^p \equiv a \mod p\). Equivalently, \(a^{p-1} \equiv 1 \mod p\).

Euler's Theorem, which generalizes FLT, states that given any integer \(m\), it is the case that for any \(a\), \(a^{\phi(m)} \equiv 1 \mod m\). Note that \(\phi(m)\) is Euler's totient function, defined as the number of positive integers that are coprime to \(m\) and less than \(m\). In particular, for prime \(p\), \(\phi(p) = p-1\). If \(m = p\cdot q\) for primes \(p, q\), \(\phi(m) = (p-1)(q-1)\).

Proofs of Security

We now turn our attention to a very different flavour of mathematics in the form of proofs of security. Philosophically, treating security properties mathematically is a rather unintuitive endeavour. Indeed, such proofs of security are a comparatively recent phenomenon. However, it gives us a rigorous way to show that a particular protocol fulfills certain security properties.

What does it mean for a protocol to be secure? Let's say we've devised a communication protocol that uses a particular encryption algorithm. How do we prove that the protocol is secure? That the algorithm is secure?

This is a particularly troubling question for a number of reasons. Firstly, we haven't clearly defined what it means to be secure. To solve this, we define the notion of a security property. In essense, a security property describes in what cases a protocol is unbreakable. The majority of security properties are described in terms of security games.

Security Games

Instead of explaining what a security game is and explaining how it maps to traditional, straightforward definitions of security, we will give an example that doesn't use any cryptographic language:

Let \(\mathsf{Hide}, \mathsf{Show}\) be algorithms that hide and show a particular message. We have that \(\mathsf{Show}(\mathsf{Hide}(m)) = m\), and we also have that any polynomial-time adversary \(A\) in the following game has negligible advantage:

  1. The adversary generates two equal-length messages \(m_1, m_2\) and sends them both to the challenger.
  2. The challenger will choose a message \(m_b\) uniformly at random, and send back \(\mathsf{Hide}(m_b)\).
  3. The adversary guesses \(b\), and wins if they guess correctly.

There's a lot to unpack here. A security definition generally starts with a set of definitions. In this case, we only defined our algorithms, but not how they actually work. That means that finding algorithms that fulfill this security definition is another feat entirely.

Security games are usually split up into two players: an adversary and a challenger. The adversary is typically given some level of power (in this case, a polynomial-time adversary can run any algorithm, so long as it runs in polynomial time), and represents all possible actors trying to break your protocol.

Lastly, the adversary's advantage models how likely the adversary is to win the game. We typically want the adversary's advantage to be negligible, which has a specific mathematical definition but can be thought of as super-polynomially small. Usually this means either essentially 0 or essentialy 1/2 (in the above example, we want the adversary's advantage to be 1/2 - that is, they don't do any better than guessing randomly).

The example game we showed is itself the security property. If we were to find algorithms that can beat the adversary in this game, then we can be certain it fulfills this definition, and use it with some level of peace of mind. Note, however, that not all security definitions are made equal, and some are stronger than others. Some have an adversary that has more computational power, have access to more information, have the ability to perform more tasks, etc. The security of a protocol reduces only to the properties that it fulfills.




TODO: Falsifiable, non-falsifiable