PhD Oral Exam - Ahmed Abdelkhalek, Information and Systems Engineering
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
When the public-key cryptography was introduced in the 1970s, symmetric-key cryptography was believed to soon become outdated. Nevertheless, we still heavily rely on symmetrickey primitives as they give high-speed performance. They are used to secure mobile communication, e-commerce transactions, communication through virtual private networks and sending electronic tax returns, among many other everyday activities. However, the security of symmetric-key primitives does not depend on a well-known hard mathematical problem such as the factoring problem which is the basis of the RSA public-key cryptosystem. Instead, the security of symmetric-key primitives is evaluated against known cryptanalytic techniques. Accordingly, the topic of furthering the state-of-the-art of cryptanalysis of symmetric-key primitives is an ever-evolving topic. Therefore, this thesis is dedicated to the cryptanalysis of symmetric-key cryptographic primitives. Our main focus is on block ciphers as well as hash functions that are built using block ciphers. Our contributions can be summarized as follows: First, we tackle the limitation of the current Mixed Integer Linear Programming (MILP) approaches to represent the differential propagation through large S-boxes. Indeed, we present a novel approach that can efficiently model the Difference Distribution Table (DDT) of large S-boxes, i.e., 8-bit S-boxes. As a proof of the validity and efficiency of our approach, we apply it on two out of the seven AES-round based constructions that were recently proposed in FSE 2016. Using our approach, we improve the lower bound of the number of active S-boxes of one construction and the upper bound of the best differential characteristic of the other. Then, we propose meet-in-the-middle attacks using the idea of efficient differential enumeration against two Japanese block ciphers, i.e., Hierocrypt-L1 and Hierocrypt-3. Both block ciphers were submitted to the New European Schemes for Signatures, Integrity, and Encryption (NESSIE) project, selected as one of the Japanese e-Government recommended ciphers in 2003 and reselected in the candidate recommended ciphers list in 2013. We construct 5 S-box layer distinguishers that we use to recover the master keys of reduced 8 S-box layer versions of both block ciphers. In addition, we present another meet-in-the-middle attack on Hierocrypt-3 with slightly higher time and memory complexities but with much less data complexity.
Afterwards, we shift focus to another equally important cryptanalytic attack, i.e., impossible differential attack. SPARX-64/128 is selected among the SPARX family that was recently proposed to provide ARX based block cipher whose security against differential and linear cryptanalysis can be proven. We assess the security of SPARX-64/128 against impossible differential attack and show that it can reach the same number of rounds the division-based integral attack, proposed by the designers, can reach. Then, we pick Kiasu-BC as an example of a tweakable block cipher and prove that, on contrary to its designers claim, the freedom in choosing the publicly known tweak decreases its security margin. Lastly, we study the impossible differential properties of the underlying block cipher of the Russian hash standard Streebog and point out the potential risk in using it as a MAC scheme in the secret-IV mode.