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PROTOCOL: Encrypted Open Books
Kent Hastings wondered how an offshore bank could provide assurances
to depositors. I wondered the same thing a few months ago, and
started working on what Perry calls the anonymous auditing problem. I
have what I consider to be the core of a solution.
All the following protocols and ideas are in the public domain.
The following is long.
My notation here will also be much less formal than I am capable of; I
don't want to make the uninitiated read TeX.
The basic idea is that summation can be performed encrypted by using
exponentiation in a finite field. That is, if I represent an amount x
by g^x and an amount y by g^y, then I can compute the sum of x and y
by multiplying g^x and g^y, getting g^(x+y). Very basic.
So let us take a very simple version of this protocol, which leaves
out many desiderata. If a shared funds account, say, has a bunch of
transactions made on it, then we can publish each of those amounts x_i
(for the non-TeX'd, underscore means subscript) encrypted as g^(x_i).
I know what my transaction number, i, is, and what the amount was, so
I can verify that my transaction appeared in the public list. We also
publish the beginning and ending balances, givings use a total
difference X. Now anyone can verify that g^X equals g^(Sum_i x_i).
That is, everyone can verify that the aggregate effect of the
transactions is what is claimed without revealing the amounts of any
What does this protocol reveal? It reveals the number of transactions
on each account and thus the total number of transactions. It is also
subject to known plaintext attack. If I get an account on this system
and make one transaction in each amount, I can decrypt by table lookup
the whole transaction flow. The total number of transaction accounts
is also revealed, or, for a bank, the number of customers.
We can easily solve the known plaintext attack by blinding each
transaction. Instead of publishing pairs <i, g^(x_i)>, we have for
each transaction a blinding factor r_i and publish triples
<i, g^(x_i + r_i), h^(r_i)>
The notation has grown. g is a generator of a finite field G, and h
is a generator of a different finite field H.
We also publish R = Sum_i r_i in addition to X = Sum_i x_i.
What is the public verification procedure? Basically the same as the
first case, but in addition taking into account the blinding factors.
Step 1. Calculate Product_i h^(r_i) and make sure that it equals h^R.
This validates the blinding factors.
Step 2. Calculate Product_i g^(x_i + r_i) and make sure that it
equals g^(X+R). This, given the validity of the blinding factors,
validates the actual transactions.
How does this resist known plaintext attack? Since the blinding
factors r_i are flatly distributed over their range (caveat! you pick
the order of G smaller than of H to assure this), the x_i + r_i sum
acts exactly as a one-time pad to encrypt the amount. In summary,
what is going on here is that both the messages (amounts) and the keys
(the blinding factors) are being sent out as images of one-way
functions (exponentiations) that preserve exactly the relationships
that we want.
There's more. For a real business, we want to keep double entry books
and not just single entry accounts as above. By extending the number
of terms in the transaction, we can do that too. In double entry
bookkeeping, the total amounts for each transaction must sum to zero
over the various accounts being transacted upon; I say this knowing
that when you print out the information for an accountant you'll have
to do some sign twiddling for the asset and liability/equity halves of
the books. Also, a single transaction may involve more than two
accounts, even if in practice most involve only two.
The basic idea here is that each transaction is a set of the above
transactions whose sum must be zero. So for a transaction i, we publish
a set of triples, indexed by j,
< T_i,j, g^( m_i,j + r_i,j ), h^( r_i,j ) >
where the subscripts are doubly indexed and where T_i,j represents the
account that amount m_i,j is changing. Now we can perform, on each
transaction, the following very similar verification procedure for
each fixed i.
Step 1. Verify that Product_j h^( r_i,j ) = 1. This verifies that
the blinding factors sum to zero.
Step 2. Verify that Product_j g^( m_i,j + r_i,j ) = 1. Since the
blinding factors sum to zero, this ensures that the transaction
amounts sum to zero.
Not that both of these sums are done over j, not i. In other words,
we validate each transaction individually.
Now we also publish aggregate changes in the public accounts just as
before. The holders of private accounts know what how their accounts
have changed. Then we can use the the single account verification
method as above to verify that the totals match. Everyone can verify
that the public accounts match, and the holders of private accounts
can verify that they match.
To summarize: The transactions are doubly indexed. If you group by
transaction, then you verify that each transaction sums to zero. If
you group by account, then you verify that the change in that account
is as expected, be it public or private.
In the scenario that Kent originally proposed, one of the public
accounts would be a gold account, which through independent public
auditing would be verified to be accurate. I personally would not use
gold but rather denominate certain accounts in shares of mutual funds,
which are resistant to the currency inflations of mining and stockpile
What information is still being disclosed? The most worrisome to me
is that the total number of transactions per account is revealed, that
is, aggregate activity, but not total money flux. I have an insight
that may allow the _account_ to be blinded as well as the amounts, and
be revealed in aggregate just as the amounts are, but I have not
worked out the details because I am not fully up to speed on the
BEGIN BIG MATH
I only expect a few people to follow the next paragraphs, so if you
don't understand it, skip it.
Here's the idea. The modular exponentiation is performed in a finite
ring. We choose a ring that has lots of distinct prime ideals of
sufficiently large order. To each account we assign one ideal. We
represent dollar amounts as elements of this ideal; since the ideal is
prime, this is straightforward. The property of the ideal we use is
that the sum of any two elements of the ideal is also in the ideal.
Hence by partitioning the ring, we also partition the computation of
the accounts. We are blinding the transcations by account because we
rely on the fact that blinding is not an intra-ideal operation, and
thus does not preserve that invariant, which would otherwise be
We must be careful not to allow operations that would result in an
element which was in the intersection of two ideals. This requires
upper bounds both on the transaction amount and on the number of
transactions per cycle. There might be rings of order p^n+1 which
would be suitable for this operations, but I am not sure of the
security of the discrete log in such cases, except for p=2, in which
case it is bad.
END OF BIG MATH
The protocol as specified, though, is useful as it stands. I have not
specified all the details. For example the blinding factors should
likely be created in a cooperative protocol at the point of
transaction; blinding factors for intra-bank transactions should not
contain subliminal channels. Certificates of deposit and withdrawal
should be tied to the published transaction information. Etc.
Remember, this is the core of an idea.
One criticism I do wish to address now. I don't think it matters if
the bank manufactures fake transactions. The customer can reveal the
sum of all the blinding factors for transactions on that account, in
public, and can thus prove what should have been there. Since the
blinding factors were committed to in public, there is a strong
assurance that these blinding factors are what they are claimed to be.
This in itself can be made into an actual proof of liability. Note
that even this revelantion does not compromise individual
transactions. It only reveals the aggregate value change, which is
exactly what is at issue with the bank.
On the other hand, all of the bank assets that are held external to
that organization can be externally audited in the same way. The
other institutions that hold money might be persuaded to undertake a
legal obligation to honor what the encrypted open books say they
should have; this may not be difficult because they can verify that
their record of the transactions matches what has been published.
If we use the contents of the encrypted books at the organizational
boundary points to create suitable legal opbligations, we can mostly
ignore what goes on inside of the mess of random numbers. That is,
even if double books were being kept, the legal obligations created
should suffice to ensure that everything can be unwound if needed.
This doesn't prevent networks of corrupt businesses from going down
all at once, but it does allow networks of honest businesses to
operate with more assurance of honesty.