Applied Cryptography, Second Edition: Protocols, Algorthms, and Source Code in C (cloth)
(Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)
Author(s): Bruce Schneier
ISBN: 0471128457
Publication Date: 01/01/96

General threshold schemes are even more versatile. Any sharing scenario you can imagine can be modeled. You can divide a message among the people in your building so that to reconstruct it, you need seven people from the first floor and five people from the second floor, unless there is someone from the third floor involved, in which case you only need that person and three people from the first floor and two people from the second floor, unless there is someone from the fourth floor involved, in which case you need that person and one person from the third floor, or that person and two people from the first floor and one person from the second floor, unless there is...well, you get the idea.

This idea was invented independently by Adi Shamir [1414] and George Blakley [182] and studied extensively by Gus Simmons [1466]. Several different algorithms are discussed in Section 23.2.

Secret Sharing with Cheaters

There are many ways to cheat with a threshold scheme. Here are just a few of them.

Scenario 1: Colonels Alice, Bob, and Carol are in a bunker deep below some isolated field. One day, they get a coded message from the president: “Launch the missiles. We’re going to eradicate the last vestiges of neural network research in the country.” Alice, Bob, and Carol reveal their shadows, but Carol enters a random number. She’s actually a pacifist and doesn’t want the missiles launched. Since Carol doesn’t enter the correct shadow, the secret they recover is the wrong secret. The missiles stay in their silos. Even worse, no one knows why. Alice and Bob, even if they work together, cannot prove that Carol’s shadow is invalid.

Scenario 2: Colonels Alice and Bob are sitting in the bunker with Mallory. Mallory has disguised himself as a colonel and none of the others is the wiser. The same message comes in from the president, and everyone reveals their shadows. “Bwa-ha-ha!” shouts Mallory. “I faked that message from the president. Now I know both of your shadows.” He races up the staircase and escapes before anyone can catch him.

Scenario 3: Colonels Alice, Bob, and Carol are sitting in the bunker with Mallory, who is again disguised. (Remember, Mallory doesn’t have a valid shadow.) The same message comes in from the president and everyone reveals their shadows. Mallory reveals his shadow only after he has heard the other three. Since only three shadows are needed to reconstruct the secret, he can quickly create a valid shadow and reveals that. Now, not only does he know the secret, but no one realizes that he isn’t part of the scheme.

Some protocols that handle these sorts of cheaters are discussed in Section 23.2.

Secret Sharing without Trent

A bank wants its vault to open only if three out of five officers enter their keys. This sounds like a basic (3,5)-threshold scheme, but there’s a catch. No one is to know the entire secret. There is no Trent to divide the secret up into five pieces. There are protocols by which the five officers can create a secret and each get a piece, such that none of the officers knows the secret until they all reconstruct it. I’m not going to discuss these protocols in this book; see [756] for details.

Sharing a Secret without Revealing the Shares

These schemes have a problem. When everyone gets together to reconstruct their secret, they reveal their shares. This need not be the case. If the shared secret is a private key (to a digital signature, for example), then n shareholders can each complete a partial signature of the document. After the nth partial signature, the document has been signed with the shared private key and none of the shareholders learns any other shares. The point is that the secret can be reused, and you don’t need a trusted processor to handle it. This concept is explored further by Yvo Desmedt and Yair Frankel [483,484].

Verifiable Secret Sharing

Trent gives Alice, Bob, Carol, and Dave each a share or at least he says he does. The only way any of them know if they have a valid share is to try to reconstruct the secret. Maybe Trent sent Bob a bogus share or Bob accidentally received a bad share through communications error. Verifiable secret sharing allows each of them to individually verify that they have a valid share, without having to reconstruct the secret [558,1235].

[an error occurred while processing this directive]