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Towards a Smart Contract-based, Decentralized, Public-Key Infrastructure

November/2017, CANS 2017

Public-key infrastructures (PKIs) are an integral part of the security foundations of digital communications. Their widespread deployment has allowed the growth of important applications, such as, internet banking and e-commerce. Centralized PKIs (CPKIs) rely on a hierarchy of trusted Certification Authorities (CAs) for issuing, distributing and managing the status of digital certificates, i.e., unforgeable data structures that attest to the authenticity of an entity's public key. Unfortunately, CPKIs have many downsides in terms of security and fault tolerance and there have been numerous security incidents throughout the years. Decentralized PKIs (DPKIs) were proposed to deal with these issues as they rely on multiple, independent nodes. Nevertheless, decentralization raises other concerns such as what are the incentives for the participating nodes to ensure the service's availability.

In our work, we leverage the scalability, as well as, the built-in incentive mechanism of blockchain systems and propose a smart contract-based DPKI. The main barrier in realizing a smart contract-based DPKI is the size of the contract's state which, being its most expensive resource to access, should be minimized for a construction to be viable. We resolve this problem by proposing and using in our DPKI a public-state cryptographic accumulator with constant size, a cryptographic tool which may be of independent interest in the context of blockchain protocols. We also are the first to formalize the DPKI design problem in the Universal Composability (UC) framework and formally prove the security of our construction under the strong RSA assumption in the Random Oracle model and the existence of an ideal smart contract functionality.