A digital signature is the electronic counterpart to the hand written signature. It can prove the source and integrity of any digital data, and is a tool that is becoming increasingly important as more and more information is handled electronically.
Digital signature schemes use a pair of keys. One key is secret and allows the owner to sign some data, and the other is public and allows anyone to verify the signature. Assuming that the keys are large enough, and that a secure scheme is used, it is impossible to find the private key given only the public key. Since a signature is valid for the signed message only, this also means that it is impossible to forge a digital signature.
The most well-used scheme for constructing digital signatures today is RSA, which is based on the hard mathematical problem of integer factorization. There are, however, other mathematical problems that are considered even harder, which in practice means that the keys can be made shorter, resulting in a smaller memory footprint and faster computations. One such alternative approach is using elliptic curves.
The underlying mathematical problem of elliptic curve cryptography is different to that of RSA, however some structure is shared. The purpose of this thesis was to evaluate the performance of elliptic curves compared to RSA, on a system designed to efficiently perform the operations associated with RSA.
The discovered results are that the elliptic curve approach offers some great advantages, even when using RSA hardware, and that these advantages increase significantly if special hardware is used. Some usage cases of digital signatures may, for a few more years, still be in favor of the RSA approach when it comes to speed. For most cases, however, an elliptic curve system is the clear winner, and will likely be dominant within a near future.