1. 1

The Learning With Errors (LWE) problem is one of the major hard problems in post-quantum cryptography. For example, 1) the only Key Exchange Mechanism KEM standardized by NIST [14] is based on LWE; and 2) current publicly available Homomorphic Encryption (HE) libraries are based on LWE. NIST KEM schemes use random secrets, but homomorphic encryption schemes use binary or ternary secrets, for efficiency reasons. In particular, sparse binary secrets have been proposed, but not standardized [2], for HE.

Prior work SALSA [49] demonstrated a new machine learning attack on sparse binary secrets for the LWE problem in small dimensions (up to n = 128) and low Hamming weights (up to h = 4). However, this attack assumed access to millions of LWE samples, and was not scaled to higher Hamming weights or dimensions.

Our attack, PICANTE, reduces the number of samples required to just m = 4n samples. Moreover, it can recover secrets with much larger dimensions (up to 350) and Hamming weights (roughly n/10, or h = 33 for n = 300). To achieve this, we introduce a preprocessing step which allows us to generate the training data from a linear number of samples and changes the distribution of the training data to improve transformer training. We also improve the distinguisher/secret recovery methods of SALSA and introduce a novel cross-attention recovery mechanism which allows us to read-off the secret directly from the trained models.