david wong

Hey! I'm David, a security engineer at the Blockchain team of Facebook, previously a security consultant for the Cryptography Services of NCC Group. I'm also the author of the Real World Cryptography book. This is my blog about cryptography and security and other related topics that I find interesting.

64-bit ciphers attack in 75 hours => AES-GCM attack in 75 hours? posted August 2016

cake

There is a new attack/paper from the INRIA (Matthew Green has a good explanation on the attack) that continues the trend introduced by rc4nomore of long attacks. The paper is branded as "Sweet32" which is a collision attack playing on the birthday paradox (hence the cake in the logo) to break 64-bit ciphers like 3DES or Blowfish in TLS.

Rc4nomore was showing off with numbers like 52 hours to decrypt a cookie. This new attack needed more queries (\(2^{32}\), hence the 32 in the name) and so it took longer in practice: 75 hours. And if the numbers are correct, this should answer the question I raised in one of my blogpost a few weeks ago:

the nonce is the part that should be different for every different message you encrypt. Some increment it like a counter, some others generate them at random. This is interesting to us because the birthday paradox tells us that we'll have more than 50% chance of seeing a nonce repeat after \(2^{32}\) messages. Isn't that pretty low?

The number of queries here are the same for these 64-bit ciphers and AES-GCM. As the AES-GCM attack pointed:

we discovered over 70,000 HTTPS servers using random nonces

Does this means that 70,000 HTTPS servers are vulnerable to a 75 hours BEAST-style attack on AES-GCM?

Fortunately not, As the sweet32 paper points out, Not every server will allow a connection to be kept alive for that long. (It also seems like no browser place a limit on the amount of time a connection can be kept alive.) An interesting project would be to figure out how many of these 70,000 HTTPS servers are allowing long-lived connections.

It's good to note that these two attacks have different results as well. The sweet32 attack targets 64-bit ciphers like 3DES and Blowfish that really nobody use. The attack is completely impractical in that sense. Whereas AES-GCM is THE cipher commonly negociated. On the other hand, while both of them are Beast-style attacks, The sweet32 attack results in decrypting a cookie whereas the AES-GCM attack only allows you to redirect the user to a valid (but tampered) https page of the misbehaving website. In this sense the sweet32 attack has directly heavier consequences.

PS: Both Sean Devlin and Hanno Bock told me that the attacks are quite different in that the 64-bit one needs a collision on the IV or on a previous ciphertext. Whereas AES-GCM needs a collision on the nonce. This means that in the 64-bit case you can request for longer messages instead of querying for more messages, you also get more information with a minimum sized query than in a AES-GCM attack. This should make the AES-GCM even less practical, especially in the case of re-keying happening around the birthday bound.

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Comments

Hanno

Hi, there's a small flaw in your logic.

The SWEET32 attack requires a collission for an encrypted block of 64 bit size. Our GCM attack however requires a collission of a nonce, which is only selected for every new encryption operation per TLS record. The size of them depends on a number of factors, but it's more in the range of hundreds of bytes to kilobytes.

So an attack against GCM random nonces is probably significantly more impractical than the SWEET32-attack. We haven't tried to create a proof of concept (in part because we never managed to get our hands on a vulnerable implementation).

We had mentioned the keep alive issue in our paper, yet I was unaware that there are major webservers without any limit. This is an interesting aspect and lets me wonder whether having a keep alive limit should be considered good security practice in general.


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