by R.L. Rivest
As we draw near to closing out the twentieth century, we see quite clearly that the information-processing and telecommunications revolutions now underway will continue vigorously into the twenty-first. We interact and transact by directing flocks of digital packets towards each other through cyberspace, carrying love notes, digital cash, and secret corporate documents. Our personal and economic lives rely more and more on our ability to let such ethereal carrier pigeons mediate at a distance what we used to do with face-to-face meetings, paper documents, and a firm handshake. Unfortunately, the technical wizardry enabling remote collaborations is founded on broadcasting everything as sequences of zeros and ones that one's own dog wouldn't recognize. What is to distinguish a digital dollar when it is as easily reproducible as the spoken word? How do we converse privately when every syllable is bounced off a satellite and smeared over an entire continent? How should a bank know that it really is Bill Gates requesting from his laptop in Fiji a transfer of $10,000,000,000 to another bank? Fortunately, the magical mathematics of cryptography can help. Cryptography provides techniques for keeping information secret, for determining that information has not been tampered with, and for determining who authored pieces of information.
Cryptography is fascinating because of the close ties it forges between theory and practice, and because today's practical applications of cryptography are pervasive and critical components of our information-based society. Information-protection protocols designed on theoretical foundations one year appear in products and standards documents the next. Conversely, new theoretical developments sometimes mean that last year's proposal has a previously unsuspected weakness. While the theory is advancing vigorously, there are as yet few true guarantees; the security of many proposals depends on unproven (if plausible) assumptions. The theoretical work refines and improves the practice, while the practice challenges and inspires the theoretical work. When a system is "broken," our knowledge improves, and next year's system is improved to repair the defect. (One is reminded of the long and intriguing battle between the designers of bank vaults and their opponents.)
Cryptography is also fascinating because of its game-like adversarial nature. A good cryptographer rapidly changes sides back and forth in his or her thinking, from attacker to defender and back. Just as in a game of chess, sequences of moves and counter-moves must be considered until the current situation is understood. Unlike chess players, cryptographers must also consider all the ways an adversary might try to gain by breaking the rules or violating expectations. (Does it matter if she measures how long I am computing? Does it matter if her "random" number isn't one?)
The current volume is a major contribution to the field of cryptography. It is a rigorous encyclopedia of known techniques, with an emphasis on those that are both (believed to be) secure and practically useful. It presents in a coherent manner most of the important cryptographic tools one needs to implement secure cryptographic systems, and explains many of the cryptographic principles and protocols of existing systems. The topics covered range from low-level considerations such as random-number generation and efficient modular exponentiation algorithms and medium-level items such as public-key signature techniques, to higher-level topics such as zero-knowledge protocols. This book's excellent organization and style allow it to serve well as both a self-contained tutorial and an indispensable desk reference.
In documenting the state of a fast-moving field, the authors have done incredibly well at providing error-free comprehensive content that is up-to-date. Indeed, many of the chapters, such as those on hash functions or key-establishment protocols, break new ground in both their content and their unified presentations. In the trade-off between comprehensive coverage and exhaustive treatment of individual items, the authors have chosen to write simply and directly, and thus efficiently, allowing each element to be explained together with their important details, caveats, and comparisons.
While motivated by practical applications, the authors have clearly written a book that will be of as much interest to researchers and students as it is to practitioners, by including ample discussion of the underlying mathematics and associated theoretical considerations. The essential mathematical techniques and requisite notions are presented crisply and clearly, with illustrative examples. The insightful historical notes and extensive bibliography make this book a superb stepping-stone to the literature. (I was very pleasantly surprised to find an appendix with complete programs for the CRYPTO and EUROCRYPT conferences!)
It is a pleasure to have been asked to provide the foreword for this book. I am happy to congratulate the authors on their accomplishment, and to inform the reader that he/she is looking at a landmark in the development of the field.
Ronald L. Rivest
Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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