Last year, NIST selected Keccak as the winner of the SHA-3 hash function competition. Yes, I would have rather my own Skein had won, but it was a good choice.
But last August, John Kelsey announced some changes to Keccak in a talk (slides 44-48 are relevant). Basically, the security levels were reduced and some internal changes to the algorithm were made, all in the name of software performance.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But in light of the Snowden documents that reveal that the NSA has attempted to intentionally weaken cryptographic standards, this is a huge deal. There is too much mistrust in the air. NIST risks publishing an algorithm that no one will trust and no one (except those forced) will use.
At this point, they simply have to standardize on Keccak as submitted and as selected.
CDT has a great post about this.
Also this Slashdot thread.
EDITED TO ADD (10/5): It’s worth reading the response from the Keccak team on this issue.
I misspoke when I wrote that NIST made “internal changes” to the algorithm. That was sloppy of me. The Keccak permutation remains unchanged. What NIST proposed was reducing the hash function’s capacity in the name of performance. One of Keccak’s nice features is that it’s highly tunable.
I do not believe that the NIST changes were suggested by the NSA. Nor do I believe that the changes make the algorithm easier to break by the NSA. I believe NIST made the changes in good faith, and the result is a better security/performance trade-off. My problem with the changes isn’t cryptographic, it’s perceptual. There is so little trust in the NSA right now, and that mistrust is reflecting on NIST. I worry that the changed algorithm won’t be accepted by an understandably skeptical security community, and that no one will use SHA-3 as a result.
This is a lousy outcome. NIST has done a great job with cryptographic competitions: both a decade ago with AES and now with SHA-3. This is just another effect of the NSA’s actions draining the trust out of the Internet.
Posted on October 1, 2013 at 10:50 AM •