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Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2013 21:39:05 -0800
From: Tim <>
Subject: Re: cryptographic primitive choices [was: Re:
 Microsoft Warns Customers Away From RC4 and SHA-1]

Hi Daniel,

> > Using a weak encyption algorithm alone isn't a sufficient condition to
> > issue a CVE against software, since often the context of the usage
> > matters a lot.  If you use MD5 or SHA-1 for password hashing (with
> > lots of salt and rounds), then there's no vulnerability.  If you use
> > them for HMACs, then there's also likely no problem.  But if you use
> > them for a signature with a public key, there is.
> I'm inclined to try to apply your suggested guidelines to GnuPG:
> gnupg uses SHA-1 as its default digest algorithm when making public key
> signatures, both for cleartext "data signatures" and "certifications"
> (OpenPGP keysigning).
> Suggestions in the past to change the default digest algorithm to
> SHA-256 have been resisted for the sake of interoperability, despite
> every OpenPGP implementation in wide use having been capable of SHA-256
> for many years.
> Are you saying we should assign a CVE for the fact that GnuPG generates
> data signatures over SHA-1 by default?  What about its generation of
> certifications over SHA-1 by default?

To be honest I haven't followed the latest research on SHA-1 attacks
(and I'm not a cryptographer! just a pentester who likes attacking bad
crypto), but clearly the general consensus amongst cryptographers is
that it is broken.  _Practically_ broken for most attackers?  Maybe
not.  But we shouldn't wait for a debacle like the MD5 SSL signature
collision to assign a CVE.

So yes, if software still relies on SHA-1 for collision resistance,
(that is, generates signatures) then I think we should assign a CVE.

I haven't thought a lot about the distinction between data signatures
and certifications, but my gut says certifications are the scarier
one.  Then again, you have GPG signatures on software packages, so
actually that's just as bad.

> What about for the fact that GnuPG validates and accepts OpenPGP
> certificates made via SHA-1 (note that this is a different question from
> whether generating them warrants a CVE)?

Right, so here I don't think we should assign a CVE for validating
past SHA-1 signatures, at least right now. We can always assign CVEs
against the software still generating them.  Warnings are a good idea,
though.  Consider that collision attacks require that the attacker can
*generate* two separate messages that hash to the same value.  Then
later they can swap them out somehow.

So lets just assume for the sake of argument that in 2003 no one,
including large governments with supercomputers, had the ability and
know-how to break the collision resistance of SHA-1.  Alice writes some
software and publishes the SHA-1 of it.  The hash value is public
knowledge from reliable archive sources.  30 years later, in 2033,
everyone and their dog can break SHA-1 collision resistance on their
mobile phone (or brain implant, whatever).  Should we trust that
hash?  If we also assume that in 2033, SHA-1's second preimage
resistance was not broken, then of course we should still trust the
hash (and that Alice hasn't swapped out the code with a malicious

This is why it is very important to understand the very different
attack scenarios against hashes.  The public key signature scenario is
a bit more complex though...  And as soon as second preimage
resistance is broken, all bets are off with old signatures.

> GnuPG also currently accepts and validates certifications and data
> signatures made with MD5. (it prints a warning, but it still treats the
> certifications as acceptable when computing certificate validity, for
> example).  Should we assign a CVE for this as well?

I think my above answer covers this.  Obviously I made a lot of
assumptions above about when the bad guys could/couldn't break
something, but it does tell you something about the shelf life of
signatures, if they do indeed have reliable time stamps associated
with them. 

> As a reference point, the recent ENISA recommendations [0] recommend
> digests of 160 bits (SHA-1) for "legacy" applications, 256 bits
> (SHA-256) for "near-term future" (at least 10 years) applications and
> 512 bits (SHA-512) for "long-term future" (30 to 50 years, which they
> acknowledge is difficult to predict).
> I've been encouraging gnupg to move to stronger default cryptographic
> primitives for years.  i would appreciate any guidance the community
> wants to give about how seriously to take these configuration choices.

Keep up the good fight.  And thanks for your thoughtful email.

Given the number of practical attacks against a variety of
cryptographic algorithms and protocols lately, I have it in my head
that we need far more *redundancy*.  Computers are really fast these
days.  For the vast majority of applications, there's no reason we
can't compute two hashes, combine two ciphers in CTR mode, and merge
RNG output.  It seems the chain of trust in every cryptosystem is
easily broken with a single break.  Newer, faster algorithms can let
us get away with additional redundancy this without incurring a lot of
overhead.  Something to think about anyway.


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