[Resource Topic] 2023/272: A study of KEM generalizations

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A study of KEM generalizations

Authors: Bertram Poettering, Simon Rastikian


The NIST, in its recent competition on quantum-resilient confidentiality primitives, requested the submission of exclusively KEMs. The task of KEMs is to establish secure session keys that can drive, amongst others, public key encryption and TLS-like secure channels. In this work we test the KEM abstraction in the context of constructing cryptographic schemes that are not subsumed in the PKE and secure channels categories. We find that, when used to construct a key transport scheme or when used within a secure combiner, the KEM abstraction imposes certain inconvenient limits, the settling of which requires the addition of auxiliary symmetric primitives.

We hence investigate generalizations of the KEM abstraction that allow a considerably simplified construction of the above primitives. In particular, we study VKEMs and KDFEMs, which augment classic KEMs by label inputs, encapsulation handle outputs, and key derivation features, and we demonstrate that they can be transformed into KEM combiners and key transport schemes without requiring auxiliary components. We finally show that all four finalist KEMs of the NIST competition are effectively KDFEMs. Our conclusion is that only very mild adjustments are necessary to significantly increase their versatility.

ePrint: https://eprint.iacr.org/2023/272

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