NuCypher’s API is written as characters within a cryptological narrative/archetype, each fulfilling a particular role.
Alice: “The Data Owner” - retains full control over the data encrypted for her and determines whom to share the data with
Enrico: “The Encryptor” - a data source that encrypts data on behalf of Alice
Bob: “The Data Recipient” - the data recipient that Alice intends to share data with
Ursula: “The Proxy in PRE” - the nodes on the NuCypher Network that stand ready to re-encrypt data in exchange for payment in fees and token rewards; they enforce the access policy created by Alice
Alice has data that she wants to share and she wants to classify/categorize her data according to how she intends to share it. These subsets of data would have their own set of permissions - within NuCypher this concept is called a label. Alice uses this label to categorize data and she creates an asymmetric encryption key for Enrico characters based on the label. For example, Alice may use different labels and different Enricos for health data, personal data, and work-related data. Essentially, labels are a way to categorize data for sharing - you can think of file system folders as being somewhat analogous to labels. Alice can delegate access permissions to the encrypted data classified under a label to any recipient she sees fit.
The same encryption key can be used by Enrico even though multiple policies for the data can be created for different Bobs. Enrico, therefore, only has to encrypt data using the provided encryption key and data can later be re-encrypted for all Bobs who have been granted access.
When Alice wants to share this information with Bob, she can create a policy in the NuCypher Network to grant access to him. To grant access to Bob, Alice must:
Create a re-encryption key based on the asymmetric private key and Bob’s public key
Determine n Ursulas from the NuCypher Network to use in the policy
Configure the conditions of the policy, e.g. expiration time, m-of-n threshold values
Deploy the policy to the blockchain and escrow associated policy fees
Create a treasure map, encrypted for Bob that contains the list of n Ursulas in the policy, and the n re-encryption key fragments (kFrags), each encrypted for a different Ursula in the policy.
Bob can decrypt the encrypted treasure map, but since each re-encryption fragment is encrypted for a specific Ursula, Bob never has access to any re-encryption fragment in plaintext form.
The NuCypher Network uses the Umbral threshold proxy re-encryption scheme which employs a key encapsulation mechanism (KEM)/data encapsulation mechanism (DEM). In this approach, an ephemeral symmetric key is used to encrypt the data, and the symmetric key is encrypted using an asymmetric encryption key. The encrypted data (the DEM portion) and the encrypted symmetric key (the KEM portion, called a capsule) are stored together.
Even though different blocks of newly generated bulk data may use different symmetric keys, the same asymmetric encryption key provided by Alice is used to encrypt the symmetric key. How and when Enrico uses a new symmetric key is up to the user of the Enrico API.
When Bob wants to access the data, he must first obtain the encrypted data and capsule from encrypted storage. However, this data is currently encrypted and inaccessible to Bob.
To gain access, Bob must request re-encryption of the capsule by the n Ursulas that participated in the policy. Remember that when Alice granted access to Bob, she created a treasure map that contained this list of n Ursulas in the policy, and the associated encrypted re-encryption key fragments (kFrags) for Bob to give to the Ursulas for the re-encryption operation. Therefore, Bob sends his capsule and the relevant encrypted kFrag to the various Ursulas in the NuCypher Network associated with the policy. Those Ursulas will decrypt the encrypted kFrag and use it to perform a partial re-encryption operation on the capsule to produce a corresponding ciphertext fragment, cFrag. In the same way a kFrag is a fragment of a key, a cFrag is a fragment of ciphertext. The cFrag is returned to Bob, who collects cFrags until he obtains a threshold, m, number of cFrags. Bob attaches m received cFrags to the original capsule to obtain the fully re-encrypted capsule that is now encrypted under his public key. Note that the generation of a complete re-encrypted capsule is possible from a smaller number of cFrags than the number of kFrags included in the treasure map (m-of-n threshold scheme). Bob can now decrypt the capsule to obtain the symmetric key originally used to encrypt the bulk data.
Once Bob has the symmetric key, he can use it to decrypt the bulk data. This process can be repeated as more data is shared with Bob that is associated with the label for the policy.
Ultimately, because of the KEM/DEM approach, only the capsule needs to be re-encrypted for Bob. Subsequently, the size of the actual bulk data is irrelevant - whether 1KB or 1GB the re-encryption operation only needs to be performed on the fixed size capsule, which is simply an encrypted symmetric key.
Having received an encrypted kFrag and a capsule from Bob as part of the re-encryption request, Ursula can now partially re-encrypt data for Bob. Ursulas decrypt the encrypted kFrag using their private key, and use it to perform a re-encryption operation on the capsule to return a corresponding cFrag. Bob will require m of these interactions with m different Ursulas to obtain a fully re-encrypted capsule.