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Post-quantum crypto library for the ARM Cortex-M4


The pqm4 library, benchmarking and testing framework started as a result of the PQCRYPTO project funded by the European Commission in the H2020 program. It currently contains implementations of 8 post-quantum key-encapsulation mechanisms and 3 post-quantum signature schemes targeting the ARM Cortex-M4 family of microcontrollers. The design goals of the library are to offer

  • a simple build system that generates an individual static library for each implementation of each scheme, which can simply be linked into any software project;
  • automated functional testing on a widely available development board;
  • automated generation of test vectors and comparison against output of a reference implementation running host-side (i.e., on the computer the development board is connected to);
  • automated benchmarking for speed and stack usage; and
  • easy integration of new schemes and implementations into the framework.

Schemes included in pqm4

Currently pqm4 contains implementations of the following post-quantum KEMs:

Currently pqm4 contains implementations of the following post-quantum signature schemes:

The schemes were selected according to the following criteria:

  • Restrict to NIST round 1 candidates.
  • First focus on schemes and implementations resulting from the PQCRYPTO project.
  • Choose parameters targeting NIST security level 3 by default, but
    • choose parameters targeting a higher security level if there are no level-3 parameters, and
    • choose parameters targeting a lower security level if level-3 parameters exceed the development board's resources (in particular RAM).
  • Restrict to schemes that have at least implementation of one parameter set that does not exceed the development board's resources.

For most of the schemes there are multiple implementations. The naming scheme for these implementations is as follows:

  • ref: the reference implementation submitted to NIST,
  • opt: an optimized implementation in plain C (e.g., the optimized implementation submitted to NIST),
  • m4: an implementation with Cortex-M4 specific optimizations (typically in assembly).


The testing and benchmarking framework of pqm4 targets the STM32F4 Discovery board featuring an ARM Cortex-M4 CPU, 1MB of Flash, and 192KB of RAM. Connecting the development to the host computer requires a mini-USB cable and a USB-TTL converter together with a 2-pin dupont / jumper cable.

Installing the ARM toolchain

The pqm4 build system assumes that you have the arm-none-eabi toolchain toolchain installed. On most Linux systems, the correct toolchain gets installed when you install the arm-none-eabi-gcc (or gcc-arm-none-eabi) package.
On Linux Mint, be sure to explicitly install libnewlib-arm-none-eabi as well (to fix an error relating to stdint.h).

Installing stlink

To flash binaries onto the development board, pqm4 is using stlink. Depending on your operating system, stlink may be available in your package manager -- if not, please refer to the stlink Github page for instructions on how to compile it from source (in that case, be careful to use libusb-1.0.0-dev, not libusb-0.1).

Installing pyserial

The host-side Python code requires the pyserial module. Your package repository might offer python-serial or python-pyserial directly (as of writing, this is the case for Ubuntu, Debian and Arch). Alternatively, this can be easily installed from PyPA by calling pip install -r requirements.txt (or pip3, depending on your system). If you do not have pip installed yet, you can typically find it as python3-pip using your package manager.

Connecting the board to the host

Connect the board to your host machine using the mini-USB port. This provides it with power, and allows you to flash binaries onto the board. It should show up in lsusb as STMicroelectronics ST-LINK/V2.

If you are using a UART-USB connector that has a PL2303 chip on board (which appears to be the most common), the driver should be loaded in your kernel by default. If it is not, it is typically called pl2303. On macOS, you will still need to install it (and reboot). When you plug in the device, it should show up as Prolific Technology, Inc. PL2303 Serial Port when you type lsusb.

Using dupont / jumper cables, connect the TX/TXD pin of the USB connector to the PA3 pin on the board, and connect RX/RXD to PA2. Depending on your setup, you may also want to connect the GND pins.

Downloading pqm4 and libopencm3

Finally, obtain the pqm4 library and the submodule libopencm3:

git clone
cd pqm4
git submodule init
git submodule update

API documentation

The pqm4 library uses the NIST API. It is mandated for all included schemes.


int crypto_kem_keypair(unsigned char *pk, unsigned char *sk);
int crypto_kem_enc(unsigned char *ct, unsigned char *ss, const unsigned char *pk);
int crypto_kem_dec(unsigned char *ss, const unsigned char *ct, const unsigned char *sk);

Signature schemes need to define CRYPTO_SECRETKEYBYTES, CRYPTO_PUBLICKEYBYTES, and CRYPTO_BYTES and implement

int crypto_sign_keypair(unsigned char *pk, unsigned char *sk);
int crypto_sign(unsigned char *sm, unsigned long long *smlen, 
		const unsigned char *msg, unsigned long long len, 
                const unsigned char *sk);
int crypto_sign_open(unsigned char *m, unsigned long long *mlen,
                     const unsigned char *sm, unsigned long long smlen,
                     const unsigned char *pk);

Running tests and benchmarks

Executing make compiles five binaries for each implemenation which can be used to test and benchmark the schemes. For example, for the reference implementation of NewHope-1024-CCA-KEM the following binaries are assembled:

  • bin/crypto_kem_newhope1024cca_ref_test.bin tests if the scheme works as expected. For KEMs this tests if Alice and Bob derive the same shared key and for signature schemes it tests if a generated signature can be verified correctly. Several failure cases are also checked, see crypto_kem/test.c and crypto_sign/test.c for details.
  • bin/crypto_kem_newhope1024cca_ref_speed.bin measures the runtime of crypto_kem_keypair, crypto_kem_enc, and crypto_kem_dec for KEMs and crypto_sign_keypair, crypto_sign, and crypto_sign_open for signatures. See crypto_kem/speed.c and crypto_sign/speed.c.
  • bin/crypto_kem_newhope1024cca_ref_stack.bin measures the stack consumption of each of the procedures involved. The memory allocated outside of the procedures (e.g., public keys, private keys, ciphertexts, signatures) is not included. See crypto_kem/stack.c and crypto_sign/stack.c.
  • bin/crypto_kem_newhope1024cca_ref_testvectors.bin uses a deterministic random number generator to generate testvectors for the implementation. These can be used to cross-check different implemenatations of the same scheme. See crypto_kem/testvectors.c and crypto_sign/testvectors.c.
  • bin-host/crypto_kem_newhope1024cca_ref_testvectors uses the same deterministic random number generator to create the testvectors on your host. See crypto_kem/testvectors-host.c and crypto_sign/testvectors-host.c.

The binaries can be flashed to your board using st-flash, e.g., st-flash write bin/crypto_kem_newhope1024cca_ref_test.bin 0x8000000. To receive the output, run python3 hostside/

The pqm4 framework automates testing and benchmarking for all schemes using Python3 scripts:

  • python3 flashes all test binaries to the boards and checks that no errors occur.
  • python3 flashes all testvector binaries to the boards and writes the testvectors to testvectors/. Additionally, it executes the reference implementations on your host machine. Afterwards, it checks the testvectors of different implementations of the same scheme for consistency.
  • python3 flashes the stack and speed binaries and writes the results to benchmarks/stack/ and benchmarks/speed/. You may want to execute this several times for certain schemes for which the execution time varies significantly.

In case you don't want to include all schemes, pass a list of schemes you want to include to any of the scripts, e.g., python3 newhope1024cca sphincs-shake256-128s.

The benchmark results (in benchmarks/) created by python3 can be automatically converted to the markdown table below using python3


The tables below list cycle counts and stack usage of the implementations currently included in pqm4. All cycle counts were obtained at 24MHz to avoid wait cycles due to the speed of the memory controller. For most schemes we report minimum, maxium, and average cycle counts of 10 executions. For some particularly slow schemes we reduce the number of executions; the number of executions is reported in parantheses.

Speed Evaluation

Key Encapsulation Schemes

scheme implementation key generation [cycles] encapsulation [cycles] decapsulation [cycles]
frodo640-cshake (10 executions) opt AVG: 94,191,951
MIN: 94,191,921
MAX: 94,192,027
AVG: 111,688,861
MIN: 111,688,796
MAX: 111,688,895
AVG: 112,156,317
MIN: 112,156,264
MAX: 112,156,389
kindi256342 (10 executions) ref AVG: 22,940,741
MIN: 22,928,176
MAX: 22,947,668
AVG: 29,659,234
MIN: 29,645,532
MAX: 29,674,037
AVG: 37,821,962
MIN: 37,805,302
MAX: 37,840,627
kyber768 (10 executions) m4 AVG: 1,200,351
MIN: 1,199,831
MAX: 1,200,671
AVG: 1,497,789
MIN: 1,497,296
MAX: 1,498,094
AVG: 1,526,564
MIN: 1,526,070
MAX: 1,526,868
kyber768 (10 executions) ref AVG: 1,379,979
MIN: 1,379,339
MAX: 1,380,339
AVG: 1,797,604
MIN: 1,796,996
MAX: 1,797,947
AVG: 1,950,350
MIN: 1,949,742
MAX: 1,950,693
newhope1024cca (10 executions) ref AVG: 1,502,435
MIN: 1,502,179
MAX: 1,502,707
AVG: 2,370,157
MIN: 2,369,901
MAX: 2,370,429
AVG: 2,517,215
MIN: 2,516,959
MAX: 2,517,488
newhope1024cca (9 executions) m4 AVG: 1,246,626
MIN: 1,246,404
MAX: 1,246,772
AVG: 1,966,358
MIN: 1,966,137
MAX: 1,966,505
AVG: 1,977,753
MIN: 1,977,532
MAX: 1,977,899
ntruhrss701 (10 executions) ref AVG: 197,262,297
MIN: 197,261,894
MAX: 197,262,845
AVG: 5,166,153
MIN: 5,166,153
MAX: 5,166,155
AVG: 15,069,480
MIN: 15,069,478
MAX: 15,069,485
saber (10 executions) ref AVG: 7,122,695
MIN: 7,122,695
MAX: 7,122,695
AVG: 9,470,634
MIN: 9,470,634
MAX: 9,470,634
AVG: 12,303,775
MIN: 12,303,775
MAX: 12,303,775
sikep751 (1 executions) ref AVG: 3,508,587,555
MIN: 3,508,587,555
MAX: 3,508,587,555
AVG: 5,685,591,898
MIN: 5,685,591,898
MAX: 5,685,591,898
AVG: 6,109,763,845
MIN: 6,109,763,845
MAX: 6,109,763,845
sntrup4591761 (10 executions) ref AVG: 147,543,618
MIN: 147,543,618
MAX: 147,543,618
AVG: 10,631,675
MIN: 10,631,675
MAX: 10,631,675
AVG: 30,641,200
MIN: 30,641,200
MAX: 30,641,200

Signature Schemes

scheme implementation key generation [cycles] sign [cycles] verify [cycles]
dilithium (100 executions) ref AVG: 2,888,788
MIN: 2,887,878
MAX: 2,889,666
AVG: 17,318,678
MIN: 5,395,144
MAX: 58,367,745
AVG: 3,225,821
MIN: 3,225,481
MAX: 3,226,288
qTesla-I (100 executions) ref AVG: 16,894,344
MIN: 8,108,507
MAX: 48,319,170
AVG: 8,232,552
MIN: 1,720,142
MAX: 49,637,253
AVG: 1,280,935
MIN: 1,277,433
MAX: 1,305,748
qTesla-III-size (100 executions) ref AVG: 56,075,146
MIN: 22,907,085
MAX: 153,715,649
AVG: 24,229,336
MIN: 3,709,273
MAX: 122,873,829
AVG: 2,531,368
MIN: 2,514,719
MAX: 2,566,414
qTesla-III-speed (100 executions) ref AVG: 36,689,132
MIN: 20,936,453
MAX: 109,099,374
AVG: 13,203,440
MIN: 3,681,969
MAX: 43,997,844
AVG: 2,581,961
MIN: 2,575,513
MAX: 2,607,342
sphincs-shake256-128s (1 executions) ref AVG: 4,433,268,654
MIN: 4,433,268,654
MAX: 4,433,268,654
AVG: 61,562,227,280
MIN: 61,562,227,280
MAX: 61,562,227,280
AVG: 70,943,476
MIN: 70,943,476
MAX: 70,943,476

Stack Usage

Key Encapsulation Schemes

scheme implementation key generation [bytes] encapsulation [bytes] decapsulation [bytes]
frodo640-cshake opt 36,536 58,328 68,680
kindi256342 ref 10,632 10,736 16,912
kyber768 m4 10,304 13,464 14,624
kyber768 ref 10,304 13,464 14,624
newhope1024cca m4 11,160 17,456 19,656
newhope1024cca ref 11,160 17,456 19,656
ntruhrss701 ref 10,024 8,996 10,244
saber ref 12,616 14,888 15,984
sikep751 ref 11,128 11,672 12,224
sntrup4591761 ref 14,648 10,824 16,176

Signature Schemes

scheme implementation key generation [bytes] sign [bytes] verify [bytes]
dilithium ref 51,372 87,544 55,752
qTesla-I ref 22,456 29,328 23,080
qTesla-III-size ref 44,008 58,104 45,712
qTesla-III-speed ref 44,008 58,104 45,704
sphincs-shake256-128s ref 2,904 3,032 10,768

Adding new schemes and implementations

The pqm4 build system is designed to make it very easy to add new schemes and implementations, if these implementations follow the NIST/SUPERCOP API. In the following we consider the example of adding the reference implementation of NewHope-512-CPA-KEM to pqm4:

  1. Create a subdirectory for the new scheme under crypto_kem/; in the following we assume that this subdirectory is called newhope512cpa.

  2. Create a subdirectory ref under crypto_kem/newhope512cpa/.

  3. Copy all files of the reference implementation into this new subdirectory crypto_kem/newhope512cpa/ref/, except for the file implementing the randombytes function (typically PQCgenKAT_kem.c).

  4. In the subdirectory crypto_kem/newhope512cpa/ref/ write a Makefile with default target libpqm4.a. For our example, this Makefile could look as follows:

    CC      = arm-none-eabi-gcc
    CFLAGS  = -Wall -Wextra -O3 -mthumb -mcpu=cortex-m4 -mfloat-abi=hard -mfpu=fpv4-sp-d16
    AR      = arm-none-eabi-gcc-ar 
    OBJECTS = cpapke.o kem.o ntt.o poly.o precomp.o reduce.o verify.o
    HEADERS = api.h cpapke.h ntt.h params.h poly.h reduce.h verify.h 
    libpqm4.a: $(OBJECTS)
      $(AR) rcs $@ $(OBJECTS)
    %.o: %.c $(HEADERS)
      $(CC) -I$(INCPATH) $(CFLAGS) -c -o $@ $<

    Note that this setup easily allows each implementation of each scheme to be built with different compiler flags. Also note the -I$(INCPATH) flag. The variable $(INCPATH) is provided externally from the pqm4 build system and provides access to header files defining the randombytes function and FIPS202 (Keccak) functions (see below).

  5. If the implementation added is a pure C implementation that can also run on the host, then add an additional target called libpqhost.ato the Makefile, for example as follows:

    CC_HOST      = gcc
    CFLAGS_HOST  = -Wall -Wextra -O3
    AR_HOST      = gcc-ar
    OBJECTS_HOST = $(patsubst %.o,%_host.o,$(OBJECTS))
    libpqhost.a: $(OBJECTS_HOST)
      $(AR_HOST) rcs $@ $(OBJECTS_HOST)
    %_host.o: %.c $(HEADERS)
      $(CC_HOST) -I$(INCPATH) $(CFLAGS_HOST) -c -o $@ $<
  6. For some schemes you may have a reference implementation that exceeds the resource limits of the STM32F4 Discovery board. This reference implementation is still useful for pqm4, because it can run on the host to generate test vectors for comparison. If the implementation you're adding is such a host-side-only reference implementation, place a file called .m4ignore in the subdirectory containing the implementation. In that case the Makefile is not required to contain the libpqm4 target.

The procedure for adding a signature scheme is the same, except that it starts with creating a new subdirectory under crypto_sign/.

Using optimized FIPS202 (Keccak, SHA3, SHAKE)

Many schemes submitted to NIST use SHA-3, SHAKE or cSHAKE for hashing. This is why pqm4 comes with highly optimized Keccak code that is accessible from all KEM and signature implementations. Functions from the FIPS202 standard (and related publication SP 800-185) are defined in common/fips202.h as follows:

void shake128_absorb(uint64_t *state, const unsigned char *input, unsigned int inlen);
void shake128_squeezeblocks(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long nblocks, uint64_t *state);
void shake128(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long outlen, const unsigned char *input,  unsigned long long inlen);

void cshake128_simple_absorb(uint64_t *state, uint16_t cstm, const unsigned char *in, unsigned long long inlen);
void cshake128_simple_squeezeblocks(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long nblocks, uint64_t *state);
void cshake128_simple(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long outlen, uint16_t cstm, const unsigned char *in, unsigned long long inlen);

void shake256_absorb(uint64_t *state, const unsigned char *input, unsigned int inlen);
void shake256_squeezeblocks(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long nblocks, uint64_t *state);
void shake256(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long outlen, const unsigned char *input,  unsigned long long inlen);

void cshake256_simple_absorb(uint64_t *state, uint16_t cstm, const unsigned char *in, unsigned long long inlen);
void cshake256_simple_squeezeblocks(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long nblocks, uint64_t *state);
void cshake256_simple(unsigned char *output, unsigned long long outlen, uint16_t cstm, const unsigned char *in, unsigned long long inlen);

void sha3_256(unsigned char *output, const unsigned char *input,  unsigned long long inlen);
void sha3_512(unsigned char *output, const unsigned char *input,  unsigned long long inlen);

Implementations that want to make use of these optimized routines simply include fips202.h. The API for sha3_256 and sha3_512 follows the SUPERCOP hash API. The API for shake256 and shake512 is very similar, except that it supports variable-length output. The SHAKE and cSHAKE functions are also accessible via the absorb-squeezeblocks functions, which offer incremental output generation (but not incremental input handling).


Different parts of pqm4 have different licenses. Specifically,

  • the files under common/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_kem/frodo640-cshake/ are under MIT License;
  • the files under crypto_kem/kyber768/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_kem/newhope1024cca/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_kem/ntruhrss701/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_kem/sikep751/ are under MIT License;
  • the files under crypto_kem/sntrup4591761/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_sign/dilithium/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_sign/qTesla-I/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_sign/qTesla-III-size/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_sign/qTesla-III-speed/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under crypto_sign/sphincs-shake256-128s/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under hostside/ are in the public domain;
  • the files under the submodule directory libopencm3/ are under LGPL3;
  • the files speed.c, stack.c, test.c, testvectors.c, and testvectors-host.c in crypto_kem/ are in the public domain;
  • the files speed.c, stack.c, test.c, testvectors.c, and testvectors-host.c in crypto_sign/ are in the public domain; and
  • the files,, Makefile,,,, and are in the public domain.


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