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Secure Programming Cookbook for C and C++ by Matt Messier, John Viega

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7.12. Signing Data Using an RSA Private Key

Problem

You want to use RSA to digitally sign data.

Solution

Use a well-known one-way hash function to compress the data, then use a digital signing technique specified in PKCS #1 v2.0 or later. Any good cryptographic library should have primitives for doing exactly this. OpenSSL provides both a low-level interface and a high-level interface, although the high-level interface doesn’t end up removing any complexity.

Discussion

Digital signing with RSA is roughly equivalent to encrypting with a private key. Basically, the signer computes a message digest, then encrypts the value with his private key. The verifier also computes the digest and decrypts the signed value, comparing the two. Of course, the verifier has to have the valid public key for the entity whose signature is to be verified, which means that the public key needs to be validated by some trusted third party or transmitted over a secure medium such as a trusted courier.

Digital signing works because only the person with the correct private key will produce a “signature” that decrypts to the correct result. An attacker cannot use the public key to come up with a correct encrypted value that would authenticate properly. If that were possible, it would end up implying that the entire RSA algorithm could be broken.

PKCS #1 v2.0 specifies two different signing standards, both of which are assumed to operate on message digest values produced by standard algorithms. Basically, these standards ...

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