A major breakthrough this week has been the announcement by Razvan Barbulescu, Pierrick Gaudry, Antoine Joux and Emmanuel Thomé of a quasi-polynomial-time DLP algorithm for finite fields. The paper is available here
The algorithm applies to finite fields of the form , where is a prime power and where . We represent this field as where is an irreducible polynomial of degree such that divides , where and are linear or quadratic. Since this polynomial has degree or it follows that we need .
Following the previous work by Joux (see Section 4), the factor base is the set of linear or quadratic polynomials over . First one finds relations among the linear polynomials in polynomial-time by substituting into the systematic equation linear fractional transformations over in (this is where the group enters; such transformations are also called homographies or Mobius transformations). One gets a cubic polynomial in equal to a product of linear polynomials. If the cubic polynomial splits (which happens with probability ) then one has a relation. One needs such relations. Sparse linear algebra (each row has non-zero entries out of ) allows to express the discrete logarithms of linear polynomials with respect to any fixed linear polynomial that generates the field. The cost of the linear algebra is operations in the ring .
This is not enough. We also need quadratic polynomials in our factor base. This is explained in Section 4.3 of Joux’s paper. One can handle the issue by solving systems of equations (each taking operations). Hence, the overall complexity of the first stage is . This is polynomial time in the input size (as ).
The major innovation of the new paper is a new approach for the descent procedure. This is when you take a polynomial , corresponding to the original DLP instance, and want to express it as a product of elements in the factor base. The idea is to recycle ideas from the first step. Suppose . One substitutes into the systematic equation a linear fractional transformation over . One now has on the left hand side a polynomial in of degree and on the right hand side a product of linear terms of the form for . With probability around the left hand side splits into a product of polynomials of degree at most . If that happens we have a relation. One needs relations and then one can perform linear algebra to eliminate all terms on the right hand side, except for itself. We therefore express as a product of polynomials of smaller degree (the term arises as we have combined relations, each of which features at most polynomials).
One then proceeds recursively. Since the degree is initially , but drops from to at each stage, there are levels of recursion. The total number of polynomials that arise is an enormous . But this is quasi-polynomial in the input size.
And there you have it — surprisingly simple!
Much work will be done to improve the descent step. In practice one will begin with subexponential smoothing as in the function field sieve, then employ both the new method and the Groebner basis method due to Joux.
The method is particularly suitable for fields that can already be written in the form with . For example, with the recent records we take and work with instead of for the factor base.
It is interesting to consider the case of prime extensions , where is prime. The traditional function field sieve would be expected to solve such problems in around to bit operations. For the new approach we need to embed this field into with . The obvious choice is . Then the first stage of the algorithm, as we have mentioned, already takes time proportional to . The descent step will be much more time-consuming. For example . Of course, we expect this can be improved significantly, but for the moment the new method does not seem to beat FFS for fields of this size (much larger is another story).
For pairing fields such as things are much more risky. Taking and is already somewhat close to the ideal range. I would not be surprised if this case is broken before the end of the year.
— Steven Galbraith