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In case multiple stream ciphers exist, I'm refering to this specific instance in which you generate a key that is just as long as the msg, M, as a function of a nonce and a smaller key K.

My textbook classifies this as computational secure. But why is that?

I would say that it was unconditionally secure since assuming the adversary is able to find a long key O_2 that when XOR'ed with the ciphertext produces a sensible M="sensible text", the adversary still has no clue whether that was the original message or not (it could have been the case the sender's actual msg was pure garbage).

  • $\begingroup$ Basically, the keystreams aren't purely random. They can't be, because you feed limited entropy into them. If your generator creating O takes 128 bits of key data, then at most 2^128 unique keystreams are possible. If an attacker could, for instance distinguish between a keystream created by O and genuine random data then that would reduce the searchspace a lot. $\endgroup$
    – MechMK1
    Dec 19, 2021 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Also, look at real life examples of stream ciphers being broken to understand their weaknesses. $\endgroup$
    – MechMK1
    Dec 19, 2021 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ Could you rewrite your first sentence? It seems like you are saying that from a short key $K$, producing a stream equal to message size is unconditionally secure. $\endgroup$
    – kelalaka
    Dec 19, 2021 at 18:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I believe OP has confused the keystream, which is as long as the message, with a key. There's only one key in a stream cipher, it's short and gets combined with a nonce to produce the keystream. The keystream gets XORed (or otherwise reversibly combined) with the plaintext to produce the ciphertext. Using the right words is important to avoid confusion. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2021 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ Please note that the comments and answers here are interpreting "unconditionally secure" as information theoretically secure. If that is not your intent please clarify what you mean by "unconditionally secure". $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2021 at 0:16

1 Answer 1


If I understand the question right, it's about whether a truncated stream cipher $X(K,N)$ is unconditionally secure.

First, for a single message per key (and so, one fixed nonce $N$), the stream cipher is unconditionally secure if and only if the stream generator $X(\cdot,N)$ is a bijection, for the chosen nonce. Then, it is equivalent to using a fresh uniformly random key, which achieves perfect secrecy.

Now, if we are going to reuse the key, even with different nonces, then we have a problem: the total message length exceeds the key size and so this can not be perfectly secure. (Note that nonces are public)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ To unconditionally secure the key must be uniformly random and have the same size as the message. A stream cipher cannot guarantee this since they are expanding a short seed into a long stream. $\endgroup$
    – kelalaka
    Dec 19, 2021 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ My answer covers the case when the message size is limited to the key size ("key that is just as long as the msg"). As I reread the question, I now see the "as a function of a nonce and a smaller key K"... $\endgroup$
    – Fractalice
    Dec 19, 2021 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ It seems your interpretation is correct. I think some parts need re-write. the size of the bijection is not totally explicit. Second, the number of bijections doesn't cover all of keyspace of uniform random key of size equal to message size ( or am I missing it). 3rd, hiding the actual reason ( 1st comment). $\endgroup$
    – kelalaka
    Dec 19, 2021 at 19:11

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