Notes from the Hash Function Workshop
Last month, NIST hosted the Second Hash Workshop, primarily as a vehicle for discussing a replacement strategy for SHA-1. (I liveblogged NIST’s first Cryptographic Hash Workshop here, here, here, here, and here.)
As I’ve written about before, there are some impressive cryptanalytic results against SHA-1. These attacks are still not practical, and the hash function is still operationally secure, but it makes sense for NIST to start looking at replacement strategies—before these attacks get worse.
The conference covered a wide variety of topics (see the agenda for details) on hash function design, hash function attacks, hash function features, and so on.
Perhaps the most interesting part was a panel discussion called “SHA-256 Today and Maybe Something Else in a Few Years: Effects on Research and Design.” Moderated by Paul Hoffman (VPN Consortium) and Arjen Lenstra (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne), the panel consisted of Niels Ferguson (Microsoft), Antoine Joux (Universite de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines), Bart Preneel (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Ron Rivest (MIT), and Adi Shamir (Weismann Institute of Science).
Paul Hoffman has posted a composite set of notes from the panel discussion. If you’re interested in the current state of hash function research, it’s well worth reading.
My opinion is that we need a new hash function, and that a NIST-sponsored contest is a great way to stimulate research in the area. I think we need one function and one function only, because users won’t know how to choose between different functions. (It would be smart to design the function with a couple of parameters that can be easily changed to increase security—increase the number of rounds, for example—but it shouldn’t be a variable that users have to decide whether or not to change.) And I think it needs to be secure in the broadest definitions we can come up with: hash functions are the workhorse of cryptographic protocols, and they’re used in all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons in all sorts of applications. We can’t limit the use of hash functions, so we can’t put one out there that’s only secure if used in a certain way.