The author of this paper is [Adi Shamir](https://en.wikipedia.org/w...

In the scientists and cabinet example:
- $n = 11$ Number of scient...

It is important to note that the security of such threshold schemes...

Another good example would be:
You have a nuclear arsenal and th...

A combinatorial argument for this would be:
We need a *lock for ...

The main idea is:
- $2$ points determine a line
- $3$ points dete...

Programming R. Rivest

Techniques Editor

How to Share a Secret

Adi Shamir

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this paper we show how to divide data D into n

pieces in such a way that D is easily reconstructable

from any k pieces, but even complete knowledge of

k - 1 pieces reveals absolutely no information about D.

This technique enables the construction of robust key

management schemes for cryptographic systems that

can function securely and reliably even when misfor-

tunes destroy half the pieces and security breaches ex-

pose all but one of the remaining pieces.

Key Words and Phrases: cryptography, key manage-

ment, interpolation

CR Categories: 5:39, 5.6

1. Introduction

In [4], Liu considers the following problem:

Eleven scientists are working on a secret project. They wish to lock

up the documents in a cabinet so that the cabinet can be opened if

and only if six or more of the scientists are present. What is the

smallest number of locks needed? What is the smallest number of

keys to the locks each scientist must carry?

It is not hard to show that the minimal solution uses 462

locks and 252 keys per scientist. These numbers are

clearly impractical, and they become exponentially

worse when the number of scientists increases.

In this paper we generalize the problem to one in

which the secret is some data D (e.g., the safe combina-

Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is granted

provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct commer-

cial advantage, the ACM copyright notice and the title of the publica-

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or to republish, requires a fee and/or specific permission.

Author's present address: A. Shamir, Laboratory for Computer

Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

02139.

This research was supported by the Office of Naval Research under

contract no. N00014-76-C-0366.

@1979 ACM 0001-0782/79/1100-0612 $00.75.

tion) and in which nonmechanical solutions (which

manipulate this data) are also allowed. Our goa ! is to

divide D into n pieces D, ..... D n in such a way that:

(1) knowledge of any k or more D i pieces makes D

easily computable;

(2) knowledge of any k- 1 or fewer Di pieces leaves D

completely undetermined (in the sense that all its

possible values are equally likely).

Such a scheme is called a

(k, n) threshold scheme.

Efficient threshold schemes can be very helpful in the

management of cryptographic keys. In order to protect

data we can encrypt it, but in order to protect the encryp-

tion key we need a different method (further encryptions

change the problem rather than solve it). The most

secure key management scheme keeps the key in a single,

well-guarded location (a computer, a human brain, or a

safe). This scheme is highly unreliable since a single

misfortune (a computer breakdown, sudden death, or

sabotage) can make the information inaccessible. An ob-

vious solution is to store multiple copies of the key at dif-

ferent locations, but this increases the danger of security

breaches (computer penetration~ betrayal, or human er-

rors). By using a (k, n) threshold scheme with n = 2k- 1

we get a very robust key management scheme: We can

recover the original key even when [n/2J = k- 1 of the n

pieces are destroyed, but our opponents cannot

reconstruct the key even when security breaches expose

[n/21 = k- 1 of the remaining k pieces.

In other applications the tradeoff is not between

secrecy and reliability, but between safety and conve-

nience of use. Consider, for example, a company that

digitally signs all its checks (see RSA [5]). If each ex-

ecutive is given a copy of the company's secret signature

key, the system is convenient but easy to misuse. If the

cooperation of all the company's executives is necessary

in order to sign each check, the system is safe but in-

convenient. The standard solution requires at least three

signatures per check, and it is easy to implement with a

(3, n) threshold scheme. Each executive is given a small

magnetic card with one Di piece, and the company's

signature generating device accepts any three of them in

order to generate (and later destroy) a temporary copy of

the actual signature key D. The device does not contain

any secret information and thus it need not be protected

against inspection. An unfaithful executive must have at

least two accomplices in order to forge the company's

signature in this scheme.

Threshold schemes are ideally suited to applications in

which a group of mutually suspicious individuals with

conflicting interests must cooperate. Ideally we would

like the cooperation to be based on mutual consent, but

the veto power this mechanism gives to each member can

paralyze the activities of the group. By properly choos-

ing the k and n parameters we can give any sufficiently

large majority the authority to take some action while

giving any sufficiently large minority the power to block

it.

612

Communications November 1979

of Volume 22

the ACM Number 11

2. A Simple (k, n)

Threshold Scheme

Our scheme is based on polynomial' interpolation:

given k points in the 2-dimensional plane (x,, y,) .....

(xk, Yk). with distinct xi's , there is one and only one

polynomial

q(x)

of degree k - 1 such that q(x)

=yi

for all

i. Without loss of generality, we can assume that the data

D is (or can be made) a number. To divide it into pieces

D~, we pick a random k-1 degree polynomial

q(x)=ao+alx+ ... ak_ixk-~

in which

ao=D ,

and

evaluate:

D~ = q(1) ..... D i = q(i) ..... D n = q(n).

Given any subset of k of these D~ values (together with

their identifying indices), we can find the coefficients of

q(x) by interpolation, and then evaluate

D=q(O).

Knowledge of just k- 1 of these values, on the other

hand, does not suffice in order to calculate D.

To make this claim more precise, we use modular

arithmetic instead of real arithmetic. The set of integers

modulo a prime number p forms a field in which inter-

polation is possible. Given an integer valued data D, we

pick a prime p which is bigger than both D and n. The

coefficients a~ ..... ak_~ in

q(x)

are randomly chosen

from a uniform distribution over the integers in [0, p),

and the values D~ ..... Dn are computed modulo p.

Let us now assume that k-1 of these n pieces are

revealed to an opponent. For each candidate value D' in

[0, p) he can construct one and only one polynomial

q '(x) of degree k- 1 such that q '(0) =D' and q '(0 =D~

for the k- 1 given arguments. By construction, these p

possible polynomials are equally likely, and thus there is

abolutely nothing the opponent can deduce about the

real value of D.

Efficient

O(n

log 2 n) algorithms for polynomial evalu-

ation and interpolation are discussed in [1] and [3], but

even the straightforward quadratic algorithms are fast

enough for practical key management schemes. If the

number D is long, it is advisable to break it into shorter

blocks of bits (which are handled separately) in order to

avoid multiprecision arithmetic operations. The blocks

cannot be arbitrarily short, since the smallest usable

value of p is n + 1 (there must be at least n + 1 distinct

arguments in [0, p) to evaluate

q(x)

at). However, this is

not a severe limitation since sixteen bit modulus (which

can be handled by a cheap sixteen bit arithmetic unit)

suffices for applications with up to 64,000 D~ pieces.

Some of the useful properties of this (k, n) threshold

scheme (when compared to the mechanical locks and

keys solutions) are:

(1) The size of each piece does not exceed the size of the

original data.

(2) When k is kept fixed, D~ pieces can be dynamically

added or deleted (e.g., when executives join or leave

the company) without affecting the other D i pieces.

(A piece is deleted only when a leaving executive

makes it completely inaccessible, even to himself.)

(3) It is easy to change the D i pieces without changing

the original data D--all we need is a new polynomial

q(x)

with the same free term. A frequent change of

this type can greatly enhance security since the pieces

exposed by security breaches cannot be accumulated

unless all of them are values of the same edition of

the

q(x)

polynomial.

(4) By using tuples of polynomial values as Di pieces, we

can get a hierarchical scheme in which the number of

pieces needed to determine D depends on their im-

portance. For example, if we give the company's

president three values of

q(x),

each vice-president

two values of

q(x),

and each executive one value of

q(x),

then a (3, n) threshold scheme enables checks to

be signed either by any three executives, or by any

two executives one of whom is a vice-president, or by

the president alone.

A different (and somewhat less efficient) threshold

scheme was recently developed by G.R. Blakley [2].

Received April 1979; revised September 1979

References

1. Aho, A., Hopcroft, J., and Ullman, J. The Design and Analysis

of Computer AIgorithms. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1974.

2. Blakley, G.R. Safeguarding cryptographic keys. Proc. AFIPS

1979 NCC, Vol. 48, Arlington, Va., June 1979, pp. 313-317.

3. Knuth, D. The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 2:

SeminumericalAlgorithms. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1969.

4. Liu, C.L. Introduction to Combinatorial Mathematics. McGraw-

Hill, New York, 1968.

5. Rivest, R., Shamir, A., and Adleman, L. A method for obtaining

digital signatures and public-key cryptosystems. Comm. A CM 21, 2

(Feb. 1978), 120-126.

LThe polynomials can be replaced by any other collection of func-

tions which are easy to evaluate and to interpolate.

613

Communications November 1979

of Volume 22

the ACM Number 11

In the scientists and cabinet example:
- $n = 11$ Number of scientists
- $k = 6$ Threshold of scientists needed to be present in order to open the safe
Another good example would be:
You have a nuclear arsenal and there is a key that activates the arsenal. That key is going to be shared amongst 8 high ranking generals. You want to make sure at least 4 of your 8 high ranking generals are present in order to activate the nuclear arsenal. This way you can afford to loose up to 4 generals and still be able to use the nuclear arsenal and, at the same time, even if one general goes crazy and decides to activate the nuclear arsenal himself he can’t do it (he would need the support of 3 other generals).
The question is:
How do you go about sharing / splitting the key that activates the nuclear arsenal?
A combinatorial argument for this would be:
We need a *lock for each possible combination of 6 scientists out of the 11 total*:
$$ \dbinom{11}{6} = 462\ locks $$
Each scientist should have the keys for all the locks that correspond to a combination of scientists in which he is included. That is:
$$ \dbinom{10}{5} = 252\ keys $$
*Each scientist therefore gets exactly 252 keys*. Therefore, if you get 6 scientists together, they will be able to open all the locks as each one of the locks will correspond to a combination of scientists in which at least one of the present 6 is included. If you get just 5 scientists (or less) they will not be able to open some of the locks - one lock will correspond to the combination of the 6 remaining scientists that are not present.
The author of this paper is [Adi Shamir](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adi_Shamir) an Israeli cryptographer. Shamir is one of the most important and prolific cryptographers of our age. Shamir received a BSc in Mathematics from the Tel Aviv University in 1973 and a PhD in Computer Science from the Weismann Institute in Rehovot, Israel in 1977. He did research at MIT from 1977 to 1980 and there he co-invented the **RSA** public key encryption algorithm (the S in RSA stands for Shamir). In 2002 he was awarded the Turing Award.
![adi](http://i.imgur.com/Zfp8AAm.jpg)
It is important to note that the security of such threshold schemes is dependent on each of the pieces $D_{i}$ being held by different entities that are at least to an extent somewhat independent from each other. Say if you are using a threshold scheme to activate a nuclear arsenal, and all of the generals involved in the threshold scheme live in the same block, it would be easier for an attacker to compromise such scheme.
The main idea is:
- $2$ points determine a line
- $3$ points determine a quadratic
- $\ldots$
- $k$ points determine a degree $(k-1)$ curve
The secret is the $y$ intercept. Let’s look at an example for a line.
Alice wants to split a secret between Bob, Carlos and David.
The secret is 8.
Alice chooses a secret line $f$ such that $f(0) = 8$ and gives Bob, Carlos and David one point along the curve (other than $(0,8)$).
![plot](http://i.imgur.com/peMnbUt.png)
Given just one point, Bob, Carlos and David cannot know what the secret function is and therefore have no way of finding out what the secret is. However if Bob and Carlos get together they can interpolate $f$ and easily compute the secret value $f(0) = 8$.
This is a $(2, 3)$ threshold system. You have 3 participants ($n$) and you need at least 2 ($k$) in order to get the secret.