Entries Tagged "NIST"

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NIST Hash Workshop Liveblogging (3)

I continue to be impressed by the turnout at this workshop. There are lots of people here whom I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s like a cryptographers’ family reunion.

The afternoon was devoted to cryptanalysis papers. Nothing earth-shattering; a lot of stuff that’s real interesting to me and not very exciting to summarize.

The list of papers is here. NIST promises to put the actual papers online, but they make no promises as to when.

Right now there is a panel discussing how secure SHA-256 is. “How likely is SHA-256 to resist attack for the next ten years?” Some think it will be secure for that long, others think it will fall in five years or so. One person pointed out that if SHA-256 lasts ten years, it will be a world record for a hash function. The consensus is that any new hash function needs to last twenty years, though. It really seems unlikely that any hash function will last that long.

But the real issue is whether there will be any practical attacks. No one knows. Certainly there will be new cryptanalytic techniques developed, especially now that hash functions are a newly hot area for research. But will SHA-256 ever have an attack that’s faster than 280?

Everyone thinks that SHA-1 with 160 rounds is a safer choice than SHA-256 truncated to 160 bits. The devil you know, I guess.

Niels Ferguson, in a comment from the floor, strongly suggested that NIST publish whatever analysis on SHA-256 it has. Since this is most likely by the NSA and classified, it would be a big deal. But I agree that it’s essential for us to fully evaluate the hash function.

Tom Berson, in another comment, suggested that NIST not migrate to a single hash function, but certify multiple alternatives. This has the interesting side effect of forcing the algorithm agility issue. (We had this same debate regarding AES. Negatives are: 1) you’re likely to have a system that is as strong as the weakest choice, and 2) industry will hate it.)

If there’s a moral out of the first day of this workshop, it’s that algorithm agility is an essential feature in any Internet protocol.

Posted on October 31, 2005 at 4:00 PMView Comments

NIST Hash Workshop Liveblogging (2)

In the morning we had a series of interesting papers: “Strengthening Digital Signatures via Randomized Hashing,” by Halevi and Krawczyk; “Herding Hash Functions and the Nostradamus Attack,” by Kelsey and Kohno; and “Collision-Resistant usage of MD5 and SHA-1 via Message Preprocessing,” by Szydlo and Yin. The first and third papers are suggestions for modifying SHA-1 to make it more secure. The second paper discusses some fascinating and cool, but still theoretical, attacks on hash functions.

The last session before lunch was a panel discussion: “SHA-1: Practical Security Implications of Continued Use.” The panel stressed that these are collision attacks and not pre-image attacks, and that many protocols simply don’t care. Collision attacks are important for digital signatures, but less so for other uses of hash functions. On the other hand, this difference is only understood by cryptographers; there are issues if the public believes that SHA-1 is “broken.”

Niels Ferguson pointed out that the big problem is MD5, which is still used everywhere. (Hell, DES is still everywhere.) It takes much longer to upgrade algorithms on the Internet than most people believe; Steve Bellovin says it takes about one year to get the change through the IETF, and another five to seven years to get it depoloyed. And that’s after we all figure out which algorithm they should use.

Georg Illies gave a perspective from Germany, where there is a digital-signature law in effect. In addition to the technology, there are legal considerations that make it harder to switch.

The panel seemed to agree that it’s still safe to use SHA-1 today, but that we need to start migrating to something better. It’s way easier to change algorithms when you’re not in the middle of a panic.

There was more talk about algorithm agility. This problem is larger than SHA. Our Internet protocols simply don’t have a secure methodology for migrating from one cryptographic algorithm to another.

Bottom line: Don’t use SHA-1 for anything new, and start moving away from it as soon as possible. To SHA-256, probably.

And now it’s lunchtime.

Posted on October 31, 2005 at 11:50 AMView Comments

NIST Hash Workshop Liveblogging (1)

I’m in Gaithersburg, MD, at the Cryptographic Hash Workshop hosted by NIST. I’m impressed by the turnout; a lot of the right people are here.

Xiaoyun Wang, the cryptographer who broke SHA-1, spoke about her latest results. They are the same results Adi Shamir presented in her name at Crypto this year: a time complexity of 263.

(I first wrote about Wang’s results here, and discussed their implications here. I wrote about results from Crypto here. Here are her two papers from Crypto: “Efficient Collision Search Attacks on SHA-0” and “Finding Collisions in the Full SHA-1 Collision Search Attacks on SHA1.”)

Steve Bellovin is now talking about the problems associated with upgrading hash functions. He and his coauthor Eric Rescorla looked at S/MIME, TLS, IPSec (and IKE), and DNSSEC. Basically, these protocols can’t change algorithms overnight; it has to happen gradually, over the course of years. So the protocols need some secure way to “switch hit”: to use both the new and old hash functions during the transition period. This requires some sort of signaling, which the protocols don’t do very well. (Bellovin’s and Rescorla’s paper is here.)

Posted on October 31, 2005 at 9:02 AMView Comments

The Doghouse: Lexar LockTight

Do you think we should tell these people that SHA-1 is not an encryption algorithm?

Developed by Lexar, the new security solution is based on a 160-bit encryption technology and uses SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm), a standard approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The 160-bit encryption technology is among the most effective and widely accepted security solutions available.

This seems not to be a typo. They explain themselves in more detail here:

Lexar has provided us with the following explanation as to how data is protected on the LockTight cards: (we understand that the encryption is carried out on the communications layer between the card and camera/computer rather than the data itself).

“Lexar employs a unique strategy to protect data on LockTight cards. LockTight cards are always ‘locked.’ In other words no computer or camera can read or write data from/to a LockTight card until a critical authorization process takes place between the LockTight card and the host computer or host camera. This authorization process is where the 160-bit HMAC SHAH-1 encryption algorithm is employed.”

Posted on October 3, 2005 at 8:22 AMView Comments

The Legacy of DES

The Data Encryption Standard, or DES, was a mid-’70s brainchild of the National Bureau of Standards: the first modern, public, freely available encryption algorithm. For over two decades, DES was the workhorse of commercial cryptography.

Over the decades, DES has been used to protect everything from databases in mainframe computers, to the communications links between ATMs and banks, to data transmissions between police cars and police stations. Whoever you are, I can guarantee that many times in your life, the security of your data was protected by DES.

Just last month, the former National Bureau of Standards—the agency is now called the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST—proposed withdrawing DES as an encryption standard, signifying the end of the federal government’s most important technology standard, one more important than ASCII, I would argue.

Today, cryptography is one of the most basic tools of computer security, but 30 years ago it barely existed as an academic discipline. In the days when the Internet was little more than a curiosity, cryptography wasn’t even a recognized branch of mathematics. Secret codes were always fascinating, but they were pencil-and-paper codes based on alphabets. In the secret government labs during World War II, cryptography entered the computer era and became mathematics. But with no professors teaching it, and no conferences discussing it, all the cryptographic research in the United States was conducted at the National Security Agency.

And then came DES.

Back in the early 1970s, it was a radical idea. The National Bureau of Standards decided that there should be a free encryption standard. Because the agency wanted it to be non-military, they solicited encryption algorithms from the public. They got only one serious response—the Data Encryption Standard—from the labs of IBM. In 1976, DES became the government’s standard encryption algorithm for “sensitive but unclassified” traffic. This included things like personal, financial and logistical information. And simply because there was nothing else, companies began using DES whenever they needed an encryption algorithm. Of course, not everyone believed DES was secure.

When IBM submitted DES as a standard, no one outside the National Security Agency had any expertise to analyze it. The NSA made two changes to DES: It tweaked the algorithm, and it cut the key size by more than half.

The strength of an algorithm is based on two things: how good the mathematics is, and how long the key is. A sure way of breaking an algorithm is to try every possible key. Modern algorithms have a key so long that this is impossible; even if you built a computer out of all the silicon atoms on the planet and ran it for millions of years, you couldn’t do it. So cryptographers look for shortcuts. If the mathematics are weak, maybe there’s a way to find the key faster: “breaking” the algorithm.

The NSA’s changes caused outcry among the few who paid attention, both regarding the “invisible hand” of the NSA—the tweaks were not made public, and no rationale was given for the final design—and the short key length.

But with the outcry came research. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the publication of DES created the modern academic discipline of cryptography. The first academic cryptographers began their careers by trying to break DES, or at least trying to understand the NSA’s tweak. And almost all of the encryption algorithms—public-key cryptography, in particular—can trace their roots back to DES. Papers analyzing different aspects of DES are still being published today.

By the mid-1990s, it became widely believed that the NSA was able to break DES by trying every possible key. This ability was demonstrated in 1998, when a $220,000 machine was built that could brute-force a DES key in a few days. In 1985, the academic community proposed a DES variant with the same mathematics but a longer key, called triple-DES. This variant had been used in more secure applications in place of DES for years, but it was time for a new standard. In 1997, NIST solicited an algorithm to replace DES.

The process illustrates the complete transformation of cryptography from a secretive NSA technology to a worldwide public technology. NIST once again solicited algorithms from the public, but this time the agency got 15 submissions from 10 countries. My own algorithm, Twofish, was one of them. And after two years of analysis and debate, NIST chose a Belgian algorithm, Rijndael, to become the Advanced Encryption Standard.

It’s a different world in cryptography now than it was 30 years ago. We know more about cryptography, and have more algorithms to choose among. AES won’t become a ubiquitous standard in the same way that DES did. But it is finding its way into banking security products, Internet security protocols, even computerized voting machines. A NIST standard is an imprimatur of quality and security, and vendors recognize that.

So, how good is the NSA at cryptography? They’re certainly better than the academic world. They have more mathematicians working on the problems, they’ve been working on them longer, and they have access to everything published in the academic world, while they don’t have to make their own results public. But are they a year ahead of the state of the art? Five years? A decade? No one knows.

It took the academic community two decades to figure out that the NSA “tweaks” actually improved the security of DES. This means that back in the ’70s, the National Security Agency was two decades ahead of the state of the art.

Today, the NSA is still smarter, but the rest of us are catching up quickly. In 1999, the academic community discovered a weakness in another NSA algorithm, SHA, that the NSA claimed to have discovered only four years previously. And just last week there was a published analysis of the NSA’s SHA-1 that demonstrated weaknesses that we believe the NSA didn’t know about at all.

Maybe now we’re just a couple of years behind.

This essay was originally published on CNet.com

Posted on October 6, 2004 at 6:05 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.