Reading an RSA key pair

To perform RSA encryption or decryption, you will need an RSA key. In the case of an RSA-2048 decryption, you will need a 2048-bit RSA key.

More information on generating an RSA key pair is in our article on RSA key pair generation. For now, we assume you have already generated one or already have one in your possession.

You can recognize a PEM formatted RSA key pair because it starts with a line with dashes around the string BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY or BEGIN PRIVATE KEY. In the case of the latter, it is not necessarily an RSA key, because BEGIN PRIVATE KEY is also used for Elliptic Curve and other types of keys. Information on the PEM formatted key structure can be found in this article.

You will need to start by adding a random number generator (RNG) to your application. In this tutorial, the RNG is the CTR-DRBG generator, and the context is called ctr_drbg. The RSA public key is called our-key.pub, and the RSA private key is called our-key.pem.

Mbed TLS supports two ways for using RSA:

  • Directly calling the RSA module.
  • Using the public key layer.

The example will show the second, more advised method.

Header file

To use the public key layer, you need to include the appropriate header file:

#include "mbedtls/pk.h"

RSA 2048-bit encryption in C with Mbed TLS

Start by initializing the public key context and reading in the public key:

int ret = 0;
mbedtls_pk_context pk;

mbedtls_pk_init( &pk );

/*
 * Read the RSA public key
 */
if( ( ret = mbedtls_pk_parse_public_keyfile( &pk, "our-key.pub" ) ) != 0 )
{
    printf( " failed\n  ! mbedtls_pk_parse_public_keyfile returned -0x%04x\n", -ret );
    goto exit;
}

Note: There is a maximum amount of data you can encrypt with RSA. For a 2048 bit RSA key, the maximum you can encrypt is 245 bytes (or 1960 bits).

Store the data to be encrypted and its length in variables. This tutorial uses to_encrypt for the data, and its length in to_encrypt_len:

unsigned char buf[MBEDTLS_MPI_MAX_SIZE];
size_t olen = 0;

/*
 * Calculate the RSA encryption of the data.
 */
printf( "\n  . Generating the encrypted value" );
fflush( stdout );

if( ( ret = mbedtls_pk_encrypt( &pk, to_encrypt, to_encrypt_len,
                                buf, &olen, sizeof(buf),
                                mbedtls_ctr_drbg_random, &ctr_drbg ) ) != 0 )
{
    printf( " failed\n  ! mbedtls_pk_encrypt returned -0x%04x\n", -ret );
    goto exit;
}

The result is in buf, with the actual size you should copy out in olen.

RSA 2048-bit decryption in C with Mbed TLS

Decryption is very similar in set-up. The main difference is that you need the private key instead of the public key to perform the decryption.

Start by initializing the PK context and reading in the 2048-bit private key:

int ret = 0;
mbedtls_pk_context pk;

mbedtls_pk_init( &pk );

/*
 * Read the RSA privatekey
 */
if( ( ret = mbedtls_pk_parse_keyfile( &pk, "our-key.pem", "" ) ) != 0 )
{
    printf( " failed\n  ! mbedtls_pk_parse_keyfile returned -0x%04x\n", -ret );
    goto exit;
}

Store data to be decrypted and its length in variables. This tutorial stores the data in to_decrypt, and its length in to_decrypt_len:

unsigned char result[MBEDTLS_MPI_MAX_SIZE];
size_t olen = 0;

/*
 * Calculate the RSA encryption of the data.
 */
printf( "\n  . Generating the encrypted value" );
fflush( stdout );

if( ( ret = mbedtls_pk_decrypt( &pk, to_decrypt, to_decrypt_len, result, &olen, sizeof(result),
                                mbedtls_ctr_drbg_random, &ctr_drbg ) ) != 0 )
{
    printf( " failed\n  ! mbedtls_pk_decrypt returned -0x%04x\n", -ret );
    goto exit;
}

So after the call to mbedtls_pk_decrypt(), the result is in result with the actual size of the decrypted data in olen.

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