New RC4 Attack
This is a really clever attack on the RC4 encryption algorithm as used in TLS.
We have found a new attack against TLS that allows an attacker to recover a limited amount of plaintext from a TLS connection when RC4 encryption is used. The attacks arise from statistical flaws in the keystream generated by the RC4 algorithm which become apparent in TLS ciphertexts when the same plaintext is repeatedly encrypted at a fixed location across many TLS sessions.
The attack is very specialized:
The attack is a multi-session attack, which means that we require a target plaintext to be repeatedly sent in the same position in the plaintext stream in multiple TLS sessions. The attack currently only targets the first 256 bytes of the plaintext stream in sessions. Since the first 36 bytes of plaintext are formed from an unpredictable Finished message when SHA-1 is the selected hashing algorithm in the TLS Record Protocol, these first 36 bytes cannot be recovered. This means that the attack can recover 220 bytes of TLS-encrypted plaintext.
The number of sessions needed to reliably recover these plaintext bytes is around 230, but already with only 224 sessions, certain bytes can be recovered reliably.
Is this a big deal? Yes and no. The attack requires the identical plaintext to be repeatedly encrypted. Normally, this would make for an impractical attack in the real world, but http messages often have stylized headers that are identical across a conversation—for example, cookies. On the other hand, those are the only bits that can be decrypted. Currently, this attack is pretty raw and unoptimized—so it’s likely to become faster and better.
There’s no reason to panic here. But let’s start to move away from RC4 to something like AES.
There are lots of press articles on the attack.
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