Big Brother Is Watching You: A Closer Look at Backdoor Construction

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Conference Article

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Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)


With the advent of Malicious (Peyrin and Wang, Crypto’20), the question of a cipher with an intentional weakness which is only known to its designer has gained its momentum. In their work, the authors discuss how an otherwise secure cipher can be broken by its designer with the help of a secret backdoor (which is not known to the user/attacker). The contribution of Malicious is to propose a cipher-level construction with a backdoor, where it is computationally infeasible to retrieve the backdoor entry despite knowing how the mechanism works. In this work, we revisit the work done by Peyrin and Wang in a greater depth. We discuss the relevant aspects with more clarity, thereby addressing some of the important issues connected to a backdoor construction. The main contribution, however, comes as a new proof-of-concept block cipher with an innate backdoor, named ZUGZWANG. Unlike Malicious, which needs new/experimental concepts like partially non-linear layer; our cipher entirely relies on concepts which are well-established for decades (such as, using a one-way function as a Feistel cipher’s state-update), and also offers several advantages over Malicious (easy to visualise, succeeds with probability 1, and so on). Having known the secret backdoor entry, one can recover the secret key with only 1 plaintext query to our cipher; but it is secure otherwise.

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