Serialisation in Crypto

The Vital Role of Serialization in Cryptography: Securing Data Transmission and Beyond


I was working recently with Borsh (opens in a new tab) for a Solana bounty and started thinking about serialisation - which I had heart quite frequently being used in Machine Learning (pickle files!) but I wasn't sure how would I need it Cryptography. Turns out, I need it quite a bit!

Serialization, the process of converting complex data structures into a standardized format, is a fundamental concept in computer science with applications spanning various fields. One of the most critical areas where serialization plays a vital role is cryptography. Cryptography, the art of securing data and communications, heavily relies on serialization to enable secure transmission, digital signatures, communication protocols, secure storage, and more.


  1. Data Transmission and Secure Communication Protocols

Serialization is crucial in facilitating secure data transmission between parties over networks. Consider the scenario of Alice sending an encrypted message to Bob. Before encryption, the message needs to be serialized into a common format that both Alice and Bob understand. Common serialization formats like JSON (opens in a new tab) or XML (opens in a new tab) are used to convert the message into a structured and platform-independent representation. This ensures seamless transmission of the encrypted data, regardless of the platforms or programming languages used by Alice and Bob. Moreover, popular communication protocols like SSL/TLS (opens in a new tab) utilize serialization to exchange encrypted data, further enhancing security during data transmission.

  1. Digital Signatures and Message Authentication

Digital signatures are vital in verifying the authenticity and integrity of messages. Before creating a digital signature, the data to be signed must be serialized into a canonical format to prevent ambiguities in interpretation. For example, consider a scenario where Alice signs a document using a cryptographic key. The document is serialized into a standard format, such as ASN.1 (opens in a new tab), before generating the signature. Upon verification, Bob deserializes the signature and the original document to ensure that the data has not been tampered with. Serialization, in this case, ensures that both parties interpret the data consistently, bolstering the reliability of digital signatures.

  1. Secure Storage and Interoperability

Serialization also facilitates secure storage of cryptographic data. For instance, cryptographic keys, certificates, and ciphertexts are often serialized into a portable and compact format before being stored on disk or transmitted between systems. By employing serialization, cryptographic objects can be stored securely without losing their integrity. Additionally, serialization provides a means of achieving interoperability between various cryptographic implementations and applications. Standardized serialization formats like CBOR (opens in a new tab) enable different systems to communicate effectively by representing complex data structures in a uniform manner.

  1. Blockchain Technology and Serialization

The rise of blockchain technology further accentuates the importance of serialization in cryptography. In blockchain systems, data structures like blocks, transactions, and smart contracts are serialized into binary formats before being hashed and added to the blockchain. Serialization ensures that these data structures can be efficiently stored, transmitted, and verified by the distributed nodes in the network. Moreover, serialization formats like JSON are commonly used to enable interoperability between different blockchain platforms, making it easier to exchange data and assets across blockchains.

Why not just dump the content in a .txt file?

Serialization (Using Serializable Objects):

  • Pros:
    • Preserves data structure.
    • Built-in support in many languages.
    • Compact representation.
  • Cons:
    • Not human-readable.
    • Versioning challenges.

Plain Text Dump:

  • Pros:
    • Human-readable.
    • Simplicity.
    • No versioning issues.
  • Cons:
    • No preservation of data structure.
    • Increased file size.
    • Custom parsing required.