[Resource Topic] 2023/044: Complete Knowledge: Preventing Encumbrance of Cryptographic Secrets

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Complete Knowledge: Preventing Encumbrance of Cryptographic Secrets

Authors: Mahimna Kelkar, Kushal Babel, Philip Daian, James Austgen, Vitalik Buterin, Ari Juels


Most cryptographic protocols model a player’s knowledge of secrets in a simple way. Informally, the player knows a secret in the sense that she can directly furnish it as a (private) input to a protocol, e.g., to digitally sign a message.

The growing availability of Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) and secure multiparty computation, however, undermines this model of knowledge. Such tools can encumber a secret sk and permit a chosen player to access sk conditionally, without actually knowing sk. By permitting selective access to sk by an adversary, encumbrance of secrets can enable vote-selling in cryptographic voting schemes, illegal sale of credentials for online services, and erosion of deniability in anonymous messaging systems.

Unfortunately, existing proof-of-knowledge protocols fail to demonstrate that a secret is unencumbered. We therefore introduce and formalize a new notion called complete knowledge (CK). A proof (or argument) of CK shows that a prover does not just know a secret, but also has fully unencumbered knowledge, i.e., unrestricted ability to use the secret.

We introduce two practical CK schemes that use special-purpose hardware, specifically TEEs and off-the-shelf mining ASICs. We prove the security of these schemes and explore their practical deployment with a complete, end-to-end prototype that supports both. We show how CK can address encumbrance attacks identified in previous work. Finally, we introduce two new applications enabled by CK that involve proving ownership of blockchain assets.

ePrint: https://eprint.iacr.org/2023/044

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