Chinese Lottery Cryptanalysis Revisited: The Internet as a Codebreaking Tool
RFC 3607

Document Type RFC - Informational (September 2003; No errata)
Author Marcus Leech 
Last updated 2015-10-14
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Network Working Group                                           M. Leech
Request for Comments: 3607                               Nortel Networks
Category: Informational                                   September 2003

               Chinese Lottery Cryptanalysis Revisited:
                  The Internet as a Codebreaking Tool

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2003).  All Rights Reserved.


   This document revisits the so-called Chinese Lottery
   massively-parallel cryptanalytic attack.  It explores Internet-based
   analogues to the Chinese Lottery, and their potentially-serious

1.  Introduction

   In 1991, Quisquater and Desmedt [DESMEDT91] proposed an esoteric, but
   technically sound, attack against DES or similar ciphers.  They
   termed this attack the Chinese Lottery.  It was based on a
   massively-parallel hardware approach, using consumer electronics as
   the "hosts" of the cipher-breaking hardware.

   In the decade since Quisquater and Desmedt proposed their Chinese
   Lottery thought experiment, there has been considerable growth in a
   number of areas that make their thought experiment worth revisiting.

   In 1991, the Internet had approximately 8 million reachable hosts
   attached to it and in 2002, the number is a staggering 100 million
   reachable hosts.  In the time since the Chinese Lottery paper,
   computer power available to the average desktop user has grown by a
   factor of approximately 150.

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RFC 3607        Chinese Lottery Cryptanalysis Revisited   September 2003

2.  Dangerous Synergy

   The combined growth of the Internet, and the unstoppable march of
   Moore's Law have combined to create a dangerous potential for
   brute-force cryptanalysis of existing crypto systems.

   In the last few years, several widescsale attacks by so-called
   Internet Worms [SPAFF91] have successfully compromised and infected
   surprisingly-large numbers of Internet-attached hosts.  In 2001, The
   Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis [CAIDA2001]
   reported that the Code Red v2 worm was able to infect over 350,000
   hosts in its first 14 hours of operation.  The payload of the Code
   Red worm was mischief: the defacement of the host website with a
   political message.  It was bold, brash, and drew attention to itself
   nearly immediately.

   Consider for a moment, an Internet worm with a darker and ultimately
   more dangerous purpose: to brute-force cryptanalyse a message, in
   order to determine the key used with that message.  In order for the
   worm to be successful, it must avoid detection for long enough to
   build up a significant level of infected systems, in order to have
   enough aggregate CPU cycles to complete the cryptanalysis.
   Furthermore, our worm would need to avoid detection for long enough
   for the cracked key to be useful to the owners of the worm.  Recent
   research [USEN2002] on stealthy worms paints a very dark picture

   Even after such a worm is detected it would be nearly impossible to
   tell whose key the worm was attacking.  Any realistic attack payload
   will have one or two pieces of ciphertext, and some known plaintext,
   or probable-plaintext characteristics associated with it; hardly
   enough data to determine the likely victim.

3.  Winner phone home

   When a given instance of the worm determines the key, it needs to
   contact the originator in order to give them the key.  It has to do
   this in such a way as to minimize the probability that the originator
   will get caught.

   One such technique would be for the worm to public-key encrypt the
   key, under the public key(s) of the originator(s), and place this in
   some innocuous spot on the website of the compromised host.  The worm
   could also back-propagate so that a number of compromised websites in
   the topological neighborhood of the worm will also contain the data.
   The file containing the key would be identified with some unique
   keyword which the originators occasionally look for using Internet

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RFC 3607        Chinese Lottery Cryptanalysis Revisited   September 2003

   search engines.  The worm could make the process more efficient by
   using the "keyword registry" services of various Internet search

   Another approach would be to post a (possibly PGP-encrypted) message
   to several newsgroups, through an anonymous posting service.
   Similarly, Internet "chat" services like IRC could be used; indeed
   there's an emerging tradition of using IRC and similar services for
   real-time, anonymous, control of worms and viruses.
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