More Skein News
Skein is my new hash function. Well, “my” is an overstatement; I’m one of the eight designers. It was submitted to NIST for their SHA-3 competition, and one of the 14 algorithms selected to advance to the second round. Here’s the Skein paper; source code is here. The Skein website is here.
Last week was the Second SHA-3 Candidate Conference. Lots of people presented papers on the candidates: cryptanalysis papers, implementation papers, performance comparisons, etc. There were two cryptanalysis papers on Skein. The first was by Kerry McKay and Poorvi L. Vora (presentation and paper). They tried to extend linear cryptanalysis to groups of bits to attack Threefish (the block cipher inside Skein). It was a nice analysis, but it didn’t get very far at all.
The second was a fantastic piece of cryptanalysis by Dmitry Khovratovich, Ivica Nikolié, and Christian Rechberger. They used a rotational rebound attack (presentation and paper) to mount a “known-key distinguisher attack” on 57 out of 72 Threefish rounds faster than brute force. It’s a new type of attack—some go so far as to call it an “observation”—and the community is still trying to figure out what it means. It only works if the attacker can manipulate both the plaintexts and the keys in a structured way. Against 57-round Threefish, it requires 2503 work—barely better than brute force. And it only distinguishes reduced-round Threefish from a random permutation; it doesn’t actually recover any key bits.
Even with the attack, Threefish has a good security margin. Also, the attack doesn’t affect Skein. But changing one constant in the algorithm’s key schedule makes the attack impossible. NIST has said they’re allowing second-round tweaks, so we’re going to make the change. It won’t affect any performance numbers or obviate any other cryptanalytic results—but the best attack would be 33 out of 72 rounds.
Our update on Skein, which we presented at the conference, is here. All the other papers and presentations are here. (My 2008 essay on SHA-3 is here, and my 2009 update is here.) The second-round algorithms are: BLAKE, Blue Midnight Wish, CubeHash, ECHO, Fugue, Grøstl, Hamsi, JH, Keccak, Luffa, Shabal, SHAvite-3, SIMD, and Skein. You can find details on all of them, as well as the current state of their cryptanalysis, here. NIST will select approximately five algorithms to go on to the third round by the end of the year.
In other news, we’re once again making Skein polo shirts available to the public. Those of you who attended either of the two SHA-3 conferences might have noticed the stylish black Skein polo shirts worn by the Skein team. Anyone who wants one is welcome to buy it, at cost. Details (with photos) are here. All orders must be received before October 1, and we’ll have all the shirts made in one batch.