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I find myself wanting to test out a practical implementation of a proof-of-retrievability scheme, simply out of curiosity. These schemes seem to be divided into two variations, publicly-verified and privately-verified. Here's a brief explanation of the problem:

Private:

Alice sends a very large file to Bob.

Bob agrees to store the file for Alice in exchange for $5 per month.

Alice is suspicious of Bob's intentions, and suspects that Bob could delete all or part of the file and fool her into paying $5 per month, without Bob holding up his end of the agreement. Therefore, Alice wants to conduct periodic random audits to verify that Bob is in fact storing all of the file, as agreed upon.

Alice could download the entire file from Bob, and then verify the hash of the file against one that was recorded earlier. However this would waste a lot of bandwidth, and also take a lot of time, since the file is very large.

Instead, Alice would like a more efficient interactive audit protocol, in which she chooses a random subset of the contents of the file, and Bob must be able to correctly respond with an answer that is based off of those parts of the file. Since Bob doesn't know which parts of the file will be needed in the future to pass the audit, Bob is forced to store the entire file, or he will fail the next audit. Since Bob is storing the entire file, it is reasonable to say that Bob is holding up his end of the agreement.

Public:

Same as the above, except we have a third party, Carol, who also wants to audit Bob to verify that he is storing Alice's file. Carol might have more limited information about the file, for example, Carol might never have actually seen Alice's file. However Carol still needs to be able to perform the audit.

I have looked at two papers on this subject (see below) and it seems like a simple but inefficient privately-verifiable scheme is possible using MACs. More efficient schemes seem to use complicated "homomorphic linear authenticators" and fountain codes. It also seems like these more advanced schemes allow an unlimited number of challenge-response verifications to be performed in the future.

Unfortunately my understanding of this subject is limited, so my goal is to piece together a working implementation of a simple scheme that does not require advanced knowledge of cryptography. That said, I am most interested in the public verification aspect of proof-of-retrievability schemes, and it seems like the simple scheme using MACs is only privately verifiable. It also seems like there is a trade-off between the algorithm's efficiency and complexity.

So my question is, if we relax the requirement of being able to perform an unbounded number of verifications, and we also relax the requirement of using resources efficiently, is it still possible to produce a proof-of-retrievability scheme which is both publicly-verifiable and simple in construction?

Any additional information about this would also be appreciated.


  1. "Proofs of Storage from Homomorphic Identication Protocols" (Ateniese et al)
  2. "Compact Proofs of Retrievability" (Shacham and Waters)
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2 Answers 2

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I do not know of any approaches in context of proofs or retrievability (PoRs)/provable data possession (PDP) that use homomorphic encryption. However, many of those schemes employ homomorphic (linear) authenticators/tags for the metadata such that the proofs delivered by the server can be of constant size, i.e., by aggregating single tags.

Now to some misunderstanding regarding the type of verifiability:

Public verifiability in this context means that the data owner who initially outsources the file is the only entity that can modify the data, but a third party, which is given some public information, can only verify a proof from the server that the data is available, i.e., check that the data is still available/retrievable.

Consequently, public verifiability always involves some secret that is only known to the data holder (who creates the file and metadata and may modify the stored data and the corresponding tags) and some public information (corresponding to that secret) that can be given to some third party such that it can trigger proofs for availability of the data (but cannot modify/replace the data). Thus, the party in possession of the public information can only check if data is available, but can not modify already stored data in such a way that a proof after modification of the data will still succeed.

As a consequence, MAC based PoRs/PDP schemes, which are essentially the same but have different security models, can never achieve public verifiability as it is defined in this setting, as it would require to share the respective secret (and this allow modifications). The same holds for any secret key only scheme.

Clearly, the use of a privately or publicly verifiable scheme to allow another third entity (distinct form the data holder) to request and verify proofs from the server depend on your trust model. Public verifiability assumes that the third entity is semi trusted, i.e., only trusted to conduct the proofs honestly, but you do not trust the third party that it wont modify the stored data. If you fully trust the third party, i.e., you are sure that it will not modify your data unauthorized, you can also use a privately verifiable scheme and simply give away your secret to the third party. However, this is a quite strong assumption.

Typically, such PoR/PDP schemes are either private verifiable or public verifiable. But there are also protocols which achieve unbounded private and public verifiability at a quite low cost simultaneously (based on the same metadata/tags). You may look here for such a scheme. However, it is based on pairing friendly elliptic curves and may not be that straightforward to understand as you say your knowledge is quite limited.

A very simple and easy to understand privately verifiable but bounded use scheme is presented here, but it does not support public verifiability as discussed above. Nevertheless, it is easy to implement and may be sufficient for your purpose.

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Marked as best answer because I learned more from it. Regardless, the answer provided by @user4982 is also very helpful in understanding the practical aspect. –  okw Jan 8 at 18:54
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Not sure if hash trees miss some of your requirements, but many of requirements you have could be satisfied with hash trees.

Note: The scheme described below is essentially "Merkle Hash Tree-based Storage Enforcing Scheme (MHT-SE)[Golle et al. 2002]".

So my question is, if we relax the requirement of being able to perform an unbounded number of verifications, and we also relax the requirement of using resources efficiently, is it still possible to produce a proof-of-retrievability scheme which is both publicly-verifiable and simple in construction?

The scheme meets this for some parameters (depends how efficient resource use is intended). The benefit of applying hash tree to the problem is that the construct is simple, and very old. Also does not use homomorphic encryption.

If Bob has stored only 99% of the file correctly, it is probably less than ten queries will reveal it (with probability >1/2). If required confidence is 99% it'll be hundreds of blocks, but still lot less than the entire file. Proof-Of-Retrievability/Proof-of-Possession schemes are effective against Bob loosing large parts of the file (collect money, but not offering service). Erasure code can be used to deal with accidental file corruption, which is something Proof-Of-Retrievability/Proof-of-Possession schemes do not often detect.

Merkle Hash Tree based Approach

Hash tree based on a strong hash (like SHA-256) and a smallish block size (such as 1024 bytes) would allow Alice to check hash of any portion of the file, by just requesting Bob to give her any random block and checking the block matches its hash value in the tree. If Alice performs enough queries, Bob is unlikely to be able to satisfy the queries unless he has the entire file.

To be able to quickly retrieve hash from bass, the hash tree nodes need to be stored somewhere. If Bob stores them (along side the file), Alice only needs to give top hash to Carol.

If Alice gives the top hash to Carol, Carol will be able to check Bob is holding the file for Alice as well as retrieve the file.

In case Alice considers it a problem that other third parties are able to retrieve the file Bob is holding for her, maybe Alice should not give Bob the original file, but a strongly encrypted version of the file and keep the encryption key for herself. This way, Alice, Bob and Carol are able to verify Bob has the file, but only Alice can get access to the plaintext data.

Simple implementation

If Bob is a stupid file server, which has no capabilities beyond storing file or retrieving portion of file, Alice can store F'', where $$F'' = F' || HT(F'); F' = E(K, F)$$. As long as Alice (or somebody else who has top hash) can retrieve a portion of file, they can also check that it is probably B has the entire file.

More advanced schemes

The issue with above scheme is the amount of data exchanged for ensuring certain block is stored by Bob. Some newer schemes allow to respond to queries from Alice or Carol with less data needed to exchange, e.g. using homomorphic verifiable tags. This comes with some added complexity.

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I think one needs an erasure code to make that work, since Bob would have a high probability of convincing Alice using your suggestion as-is even if Bob had lost one block of the file. $\;$ –  Ricky Demer Jan 5 at 17:58
    
@Ricky: I guess you're correct. Some papers on PDP assume that Bob loses like 1% of the file, and there is, say, 99% chance of detecting that. If Bob loses less data, detecting it will need more work. I think the primary goal is to ensure Bob does not lose whole file and take the cash, but if Bob has cheap SSD storage with few bit errors here and there, it rarely shows up in any analysis which does not force Bob to go through large portion (or all) of stored file. –  user4982 Jan 5 at 20:05
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The typical way in current PDP/PoR schemes is to use an erasure code for the file and then compute the tags for the encoded file and outsource the encoded file plus the metadata. So you can detect larger corruptions by means of the proof-protocol (by doing spot checking on blocks) and correct minor modifications locally if you download the encoded file again. –  DrLecter Jan 5 at 20:10
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