# What is primary security in ECC?

I read the following paragraph in a book about Elliptic Curve Cryptography, but didn't understand it:

The primary security in ECC is the parameter $n$; where $n$ is Order of point $G$, that is $n$ is the smallest positive integer such that $nG = O$, where $G$ is a base point represented by $G= (x_g, y_g)\ on\ E (F_P)$

What does that mean? Does a larger $n$ value imply a higher security level?

Take a point $G$ on the elliptic curve $E$. Someone calculates point $P = h*G$ where $h$ is some secret number (this can be done with point addition and duplications fast). Your task: Given public points $P$ and $G$ and curve $E$, find the secret $h$.

Solving this problem is hard. That is the problem that makes elliptic curves secure.

Does a larger n value imply a higher security level?

Yes, the $n$ in your explanation is the order of a point on a curve, or put another way, it is the number of times you have to add the point to itself until you end up with the point at infinity $O$.

(There is also the order of the group of points on $E$ which is simply the number of points on the curve. Don't confuse these two orders, they are not the same thing).

Having a point $G$ with high point-order $n$ implies that the group has at least order $n$ as well.

So why do you want to pick a point with high order $n$?

The reason for this is, that if you pick a point with low order, there is a mathematical way that allows an attacker to solve the elliptic curves discrete logarithm problem faster. This is known as the MOV attack on elliptic curves:

http://www.cs.rit.edu/~txb7419/Crypto/MOVAttack.php

Note: If you play around with curves (something I suggest you should do), you will find that some points can have a scary low order. I did some experiments with a toy curve in the past:

$y^2 = x^3 + 1001*x + 75$, modulo prime $p$ = 7919

This curve has group order 7888. If you examine the points on this toy curve (you can brute-force everything) you'll find most of them have point-order 7888 as well. Point <4023, 6036> is for example one of them. The point with the lowest point-order I've found on this curve is <7285, 14> with order of just 6.

Due to the MOV condition the second point would be a very bad point choice as G on this curve.

• As far as I know the order of the point alone can't be related to the embedding degree which allows/disallows the effectiveness of the MOV attack. You also need an extension of the field. See this – Ruggero Nov 14 '14 at 9:23
• @Ruggero, thanks for pointing this out. I'm still learning about elliptic curves as well so I might miss things like that. You're welcome to edit the answer :-) – Nils Pipenbrinck Nov 14 '14 at 9:27
• The toy curve you share here has been very helpful (+1). Do you happen to have other examples (ideally a "catalog") of elliptic curves involving higher p and having points with high order? I'm having trouble coming up with the right EC parameters for that (even after brute-forcing points on curves, which quickly becomes impractical). – Iñaki Viggers Aug 15 '19 at 11:32

It means that $n$ is the order of the elliptic curve group, that is, the number of points in that group. The private key in ECC is a scalar value $k$ where $1 \leq k \lt n$.

A larger $n$ implies a higher security level. The size of $n$ should be twice your expected security level in bits e.g. a 256-bit $n$ for 128-bit security.