Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2022/362

How to Backdoor (Classical) McEliece and How to Guard Against Backdoors

Alexander May and Carl Richard Theodor Schneider

Abstract: We show how to backdoor the McEliece cryptosystem, such that a backdoored public key is indistinguishable from a usual public key, but allows to efficiently retrieve the underlying secret key. For good cryptographic reasons, McEliece uses a small random seed $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ that generates via some pseudo random number generator (PRNG) the randomness that determines the secret key.

Our backdoor mechanism works by encoding the encryption of $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ into the public key. Retrieving $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ then allows to efficiently recover the (backdoored) secret key. Interestingly, McEliece can be used itself to encrypt $\boldsymbol{\delta}$, thereby protecting our backdoor mechanism with strong post-quantum security guarantees.

Our backdoor mechanism also works for the current Classic McEliece NIST standard proposal, and therefore opens the door for widespread maliciously backdoored implementations.

Fortunately, there is a simple fix to guard (Classic) McEliece against backdoors. While it is not strictly necessary to store $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ after key generation, we show that $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ allows identifying maliciously backdoored keys. Thus, our results provide strong advice to implementers to store $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ inside the secret key (as the proposal recommends), and use $\boldsymbol{\delta}$ to guard against backdoor mechanisms.

Category / Keywords: public-key cryptography / Classic McEliece, Niederreiter, Backdoor, SETUP, Post-Quantum Cryptography

Date: received 17 Mar 2022

Contact author: research at crtified me, alex may at rub de

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Version: 20220318:094747 (All versions of this report)

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