Randomly assign n elements to n agents such that each agent only knows its own element


I’m working on an app that involves shuffling and distributing playing cards to players. As a challenge, I tried to solve this problem in a way that doesn’t require a trusted intermediary.

In other terms, the task is to find a distributed algorithm that

  • uniquely assigns $ n$ agents numbers $ 1..n$
  • allows each agent to know nothing about the assignment but its own
  • when revealing the assignment, allows other players to verify the assignment

We also assume that knowing other’s assignment is an advantage for each agent, and revealing its own prematurely a disadvantage. Agents are also assumed to be able to talk with each other in a way hidden from all other agents.

Partial solution

The solution I came up with works only under the assumption that adversaries do not collaborate.

The idea is to create a set of $ n$ nonces, and assign each agent exactly one nonce. The set is then passed from agent to agent in an agreed upon order, hidden from all others, until each agent received the set exactly once. Each time an agent receives the set, it swaps its nonce with a new one, memorizes the new nonce, and confirms receival of the set to the others. This entire procedure is done twice, at which point, all agents have received the set at least once after all other agents swapped their nonces, making it impossible to recognize and hence map the nonces to the other agents.

When the last agent receives the set the second time, it shares it with everyone, and all agents confirm to the others that their nonce is contained in the set. The agents then assign a number to each nonce in the set based on an agreed upon random seed, giving us the required unique assignment.

To allow ownership verification, instead of the nonces, agents put the hash value of their nonce on the set, revealing the actual nonce only when verification is required.

The problem with this solution is that if adversaries are allowed to collaborate, each time an adversary receives the set, they can compare their versions, identify changes and potentially derive which nonce belongs to other agents, allowing them to know what number got assigned to them.

All ideas are appreciated!