New Attack on Threefish
At FSE 2010 this week, Dmitry Khovratovich and Ivica Nikolic presented a paper where they cryptanalyze ARX algorithms (algorithms that use only addition, rotation, and exclusive-OR operations): “Rotational Cryptanalysis of ARX.” In the paper, they demonstrate their attack against Threefish. Their attack breaks 39 (out of 72) rounds of Threefish-256 with a complexity of 2252.4, 42 (out of 72) rounds of Threefish-512 with a complexity of 2507, and 43.5 (out of 80) rounds of Threefish-1024 with a complexity of 21014.5. (Yes, that’s over 21000. Don’t laugh; it really is a valid attack, even though it—or any of these others—will never be practical.)
This is excellent work, and represents the best attacks against Threefish to date. (I suspect that the attacks can be extended a few more rounds with some clever cryptanalytic tricks, but no further.) The security of full Threefish isn’t at risk, of course; there’s still plenty of security margin.
We have always stood by the security of Threefish with any set of non-obviously-bad constants. Still, a trivial modification—changing a single constant in the key schedule—dramatically reduces the number of rounds through which this attack can penetrate. If NIST allows another round of tweaks to the SHA-3 candidate algorithms, we will almost certainly take the opportunity to improve Skein’s security; we’ll change this constant to a value that removes the rotational symmetries that this technique exploits. If they don’t, we’re still confident of the security of Threefish and Skein.
And we’re always pleased to see more cryptanalysis against Threefish and Skein.