A Key Recovery Reaction Attack on QC-MDPC

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Algorithms for secure encryption in a post-quantum world are currently receiving a lot of attention in the research community. One of the most promising such algorithms is the code-based scheme called QC-MDPC, which has excellent performance and a small public key size. In this work we present a very efficient key recovery attack on the QC-MDPC scheme using the fact that decryption uses an iterative decoding step and this can fail with some small probability. We identify a dependence between the secret key and the failure in decoding. This can be used to build what we refer to as a distance spectrum for the secret key, which is the set of all distances between any two ones in the secret key. In a reconstruction step we then determine the secret key from the distance spectrum. The attack has been implemented and tested on a proposed instance of QC-MDPC for 80-bit security. It successfully recovers the secret key in minutes. A slightly modified version of the attack can be applied on proposed versions of the QC-MDPC scheme that provides INDCCA security. The attack is a bit more complex in this case, but still very much below the security level. The reason why we can break schemes with proved CCA security is that the model for these proofs typically does not include the decoding error possibility. Last, we present several algorithms for key reconstruction from an empirical distance spectrum. We first improve the naïve algorithm for key reconstruction by a factor of about 30,000, when the parameters for 80-bit security are implemented. We further develop the algorithm to deal with errors in the distance spectrum. This ultimately reduces the requirement on the number of ciphertexts that need to be collected for a successful key recovery.


External organisations
  • University of Bergen
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Information Systems


  • CCA-security, key-recovery attack, post-quantum cryptography, QC-MDPC, reaction attack
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1845 - 1861
Number of pages17
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch