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RSA Encryption

OK, in the previous section we described what is meant by a trap-door cipher, but how do you make one? One commonly used cipher of this form is called ``RSA Encryption'', where ``RSA'' are the initials of the three creators: ``Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman''. It is based on the following idea:

It is very simple to multiply numbers together, especially with computers. But it can be very difficult to factor numbers. For example, if I ask you to multiply together 34537 and 99991, it is a simple matter to punch those numbers into a calculator and 3453389167. But the reverse problem is much harder.

Suppose I give you the number 1459160519. I'll even tell you that I got it by multiplying together two integers. Can you tell me what they are? This is a very difficult problem. A computer can factor that number fairly quickly, but (although there are some tricks) it basically does it by trying most of the possible combinations. For any size number, the computer has to check something that is of the order of the size of the square-root of the number to be factored. In this case, that square-root is roughly 38000.

Now it doesn't take a computer long to try out 38000 possibilities, but what if the number to be factored is not ten digits, but rather 400 digits? The square-root of a number with 400 digits is a number with 200 digits. The lifetime of the universe is approximately $10^{18}$ seconds - an 18 digit number. Assuming a computer could test one million factorizations per second, in the lifetime of the universe it could check $10^{24}$ possibilities. But for a 400 digit product, there are $10^{200}$ possibilities. This means the computer would have to run for $10^{176}$ times the life of the universe to factor the large number.

It is, however, not too hard to check to see if a number is prime--in other words to check to see that it cannot be factored. If it is not prime, it is difficult to factor, but if it is prime, it is not hard to show it is prime.

So RSA encryption works like this. I will find two huge prime numbers, $p$ and $q$ that have 100 or maybe 200 digits each. I will keep those two numbers secret (they are my private key), and I will multiply them together to make a number $N=pq$. That number $N$ is basically my public key. It is relatively easy for me to get $N$; I just need to multiply my two numbers. But if you know $N$, it is basically impossible for you to find $p$ and $q$. To get them, you need to factor $N$, which seems to be an incredibly difficult problem.

But exactly how is $N$ used to encode a message, and how are $p$ and $q$ used to decode it? Below is presented a complete example, but I will use tiny prime numbers so it is easy to follow the arithmetic. In a real RSA encryption system, keep in mind that the prime numbers are huge.

In the following example, suppose that person A wants to make a public key, and that person B wants to use that key to send A a message. In this example, we will suppose that the message A sends to B is just a number. We assume that A and B have agreed on a method to encode text as numbers. Here are the steps:

  1. Person A selects two prime numbers. We will use $p=23$ and $q=41$ for this example, but keep in mind that the real numbers person A should use should be much larger.

  2. Person A multiplies $p$ and $q$ together to get $pq = (23)(41) = 943$. $943$ is the ``public key'', which he tells to person B (and to the rest of the world, if he wishes).

  3. Person A also chooses another number $e$ which must be relatively prime to $(p-1)(q-1)$. In this case, $(p-1)(q-1) = (22)(40) = 880$, so $e=7$ is fine. $e$ is also part of the public key, so B also is told the value of $e$.

  4. Now B knows enough to encode a message to A. Suppose, for this example, that the message is the number $M=35$.

  5. B calculates the value of $C = M^e ({\rm mod}\ N) = 35^7 ({\rm mod}\ 943)$.

  6. $35^7 = 64339296875$ and $64339296875 ({\rm mod}\ 943) = 545$. The number $545$ is the encoding that B sends to A.

  7. Now A wants to decode 545. To do so, he needs to find a number $d$ such that $ed = 1 ({\rm mod}\ (p-1)(q-1))$, or in this case, such that $7d = 1 ({\rm mod}\ 880)$. A solution is $d=503$, since $7*503 = 3521 = 4(880) + 1 = 1 ({\rm mod}\ 880)$.

  8. To find the decoding, A must calculate $C^d ({\rm mod}\ N)
= 545^{503} ({\rm mod}\ 943)$. This looks like it will be a horrible calculation, and at first it seems like it is, but notice that $503 = 256 + 128 + 64 + 32 + 16 + 4 + 2 + 1$ (this is just the binary expansion of 503). So this means that

    \begin{displaymath}545^{503} = 545^{256+128+64+32+16+4+2+1} = 545^{256}545^{128}\cdots 545^1.\end{displaymath}

    But since we only care about the result $({\rm mod}\ 943)$, we can calculate all the partial results in that modulus, and by repeated squaring of 545, we can get all the exponents that are powers of 2. For example, $545^2 ({\rm mod}\ 943) = 545\cdot 545 = 297025 ({\rm mod}\ 943) = 923$. Then square again: $545^4 ({\rm mod}\ 943)
= (545^2)^2 ({\rm mod}\ 943) = 923\cdot 923 = 851929 ({\rm mod}\ 943)
= 400$, and so on. We obtain the following table:

    \begin{eqnarray*}
545^1 ({\rm mod}\ 943) &=& 545 \\
545^2 ({\rm mod}\ 943) &=& ...
...\rm mod}\ 943) &=& 18 \\
545^{256} ({\rm mod}\ 943) &=& 324 \\
\end{eqnarray*}



    So the result we want is:

    \begin{displaymath}545^{503} ({\rm mod}\ 943) = 324\cdot 18\cdot 215\cdot 795\cdot
857\cdot 400\cdot 923\cdot 545 ({\rm mod}\ 943) = 35. \end{displaymath}

Using this tedious (but simple for a computer) calculation, A can decode B's message and obtain the original message $N = 35$.



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Next: RSA Exercise Up: rsa Previous: Certification
Zvezdelina Stankova-Frenkel 2000-12-22