Consider the following scenario: Alice has a secret key and public key pair for text-book RSA (denoted $\text{sk}$ and $\text{pk}$ respectively). Bob has an authentic copy of $\text{pk}$. The adversary has an authentic copy of $\text{pk}$.

Now, Bob wants to send his $\text{PIN}$ to Alice which is a four digit number. He encrypts as follows: First he chooses a nonce $N_0$ (a number chosen randomly from a very large domain). He then sends the encryption: $c = N_0 \mathbin\| \operatorname{RSA}(\text{pk}, [\text{PIN}\mathbin\| N_0]) = N_0 \mathbin\| [\text{PIN} \mathbin\| N_0]^e \bmod N$ where $(e,N)$ is the RSA public key.

Otherwise said, he constructs the new message $“\text{PIN} \mathbin\| N_0”$ (you may assume that he is able to embed $[\text{PIN}\mathbin\|N_0]$ as a number in $\{1, 2, … , N-1\}$) and encrypts that using text-book RSA. He also sends the number $N_0$ to Alice “in the clear”.

Show an attack which allows the adversary to learn the $\text{PIN}$ using only an eavesdropping attack.

I'm just not sure how to even start with this problem. I understand that textbook rsa creates the ciphertext with $\operatorname{Enc}(e, m) = m^e\bmod N$, but I don't know how I would get the $\text{PIN}$ if I can't tamper with messages. Any help would be appreciated.

I tried to work some things out and I've come to a different problem. Since the PIN has a relatively small number of possibilities, could I just use a brute force attack? Since the adversary knows the ciphertext, e, N0, and has access to the public key I could just keep trying different PINS correct?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hint: suppose you had a guess to the PIN - how would you verify that guess? $\endgroup$
    – poncho
    Nov 23, 2021 at 19:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ While editing the question, I took the liberty to replace the ambiguous occurrences of $a=b\pmod N$ with $a=b\bmod N$, which is the desired meaning in an RSA context. Recall $a\equiv b\pmod N$ means $b-a$ is a multiple of $N$, and $a=b\bmod N$ additionally means $0\le a<N$. If $a=b\pmod N$ is used and assigned one of the two meanings, that's best explicitly stated. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Nov 23, 2021 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yes you found the attack. Now your best options are writing an answer to your own question (you'll be able to accept it in a few days), or delete the question. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Nov 24, 2021 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


RSA is deterministic. This means that if you encrypt the same message twice using the same public key, the two ciphertexts are exactly the same.

Since the adversary knows both $N_0$ and $E_{pk}(PIN || N_0)$, the adversary can guess a PIN $PIN_{guess}$ and verify their guess by computing $E_{pk}(PIN_{guess} || N_0)$ and checking if it equals $E_{pk}(PIN || N_0)$.

Since the PIN is a 4 digit number, the adversary can check all of the PINs.


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