[tor-dev] Comparing Proposals 295 and 308

Tomer Ashur tomer.ashur at esat.kuleuven.be
Wed Oct 16 08:57:33 UTC 2019

Dear all,

Some time ago I sent to this mailing list a proposal for using the ADL construction to solve the crypto tagging attack and it was registered as Proposal 295. Then, about a month ago Jean Paul Degabriele sent another proposal aiming for the same, which was registered as Proposal 308. We’ve now had the chance to compare both proposals and we provide our observations below.  But before we discuss the pros and cons of each proposal, I’d like to re-state our goal for Proposal 295. Our aim was to build something that:

1. does not lose any security guarantees that are already in place; 

2. prevents successful crypto-tagging; and 

3. does not introduce new weaknesses.

We *did not* consider advanced security goals such as forward secrecy and/or non-repudiation which was also mentioned earlier on this mailing list. 


In achieving these goals, the two proposals are almost the same: for the encryption part, both use layered encryption where the nonce is tweaked with a digest of the ciphertext, and sent in encrypted form to the next node as part of the ciphertext. The only meaningful difference I could find is that instead of using the output of the universal hash function (i.e., GHASH) as a running digest as is done in Proposal 295, Proposal 308 uses the encrypted nonce. Jean Paul made the correct observation that our security proof did not account for key-dependent input, but we believe that this can be resolved by rewriting the proof. In either case, this is a subtlety and common ground can be found. On a high level, both proposals use the same mechanism to avoid crypto-tagging.


Where the proposals differ is in the authentication part. Proposal 295 makes a functional separation between the encryption part and the authentication part, cf. Lines 150-152 (authentication) and Lines 156-160 (layered encryption). Conversely, Proposal 308 does not offer such separation, and the authentication and encryption of the last node are done in a single pass (cf. Lines 227-230 and Lines 244-252). This comes with what we think are two highly unwanted side effects defeating the purpose of using the ADL construction to begin with: the authentication of the last node depends solely on the proper execution of the IF statement on Line 266. As a result, if this line is skipped for some reason (e.g., because an adversary corrupted the last node, a bug, or as a result of over-optimization), modified messages may leave the network. Moreover, the last layer is malleable which means that a difference introduced to the ciphertext entering the last node will be preserved through the final decryption (given that the IF statement on Line 266 is skipped). This is because the decryption nonce does not depend on the authentication process (in the lingo of Proposal 308 this is called a “dynamic nonce”).


Comparing this to Proposal 295 we see that the same cannot happen. Any change introduced at any point (including the ciphertext entering the last node) will completely destroy the payload in an irrecoverable way (the same happens in the “static layers” of Proposal 308; only the dynamic layer is malleable). 


For the record, a corollary of all of this is that if Sf_I is leaked (e.g., via a side channel in the generation process of Nf_I that is used by the IF statement), the adversary now has the secret it needs to decrypt the ciphertext regardless of the authentication process. Not being able to do this is exactly what’s captured by the RUP property used in Proposal 295 in which the only way to obtain N_4 (the counterpart of Proposal 308’s Nf_I) is via a successful digest of an unmodified ciphertext. 


The place where Proposal 308 nicely extends over Proposal 295 is in the forward secrecy domain. In an email to this mailing list we conjectured that if certain changes are made to Proposal 295 it will provide forward secrecy in addition to its crypto-tagging resistance. Jean Paul suggested an attack against this conjecture, but I find that the attack is not very convincing. Indeed, once the keys are leaked, the last message can be recovered. But I don’t think that there’s anything surprising in the fact that the set of keys that would have normally decrypted a message will also do so if leaked to an adversary. A more reasonable definition for forward secrecy would be that no message can be decrypted *after* the state (including ephemeral secrets) that was used to generate this message was replaced. Admittedly, Proposal 308 replaces this state earlier than Proposal 295 (immediately after processing  the message vs. after processing the next message), which may be desirable, but is anyway not disastrous. 


That being said, this discussion is theoretic in nature since of the two proposals, only Proposal 308 offers an actual mechanism. For Proposal 295 we only offer a conjecture. We also tend to somewhat agree that frequent re-keying is a better way to achieve forward secrecy. 


Regardless of which is the better way, both can be built on top of the encryption mechanism we offered in Proposal 295 whose goal is to resist crypto-tagging. In the interest of moving forward we propose to implement Proposal 295 as suggested or something close to it (e.g., using POLYVAL) to counter crypto-tagging, then discuss alternatives to achieving forward secrecy and add those on top of the ADL construction via Proposal 308.  


A few side notes:

1. Proposal 308 argues that POLYVAL is more suited than GHASH to our this use-case. This is an implementation issue. GHASH or POLYVAL or any other collision resistant hash function are all the same to us. 

2. I'm pretty sure there's a typo on Line 250 in Proposal 308 and that the text should be Y_I = Tf_{I+1} ^ X_I. Otherwise, I can't see how the protocol decrypts on Line 285.

3. The lengths in Section 2.2 (marked for revision) are given in bytes, but then in Section 2.3 they are treated as bits. 

4. Line 230 has unbalanced parenthesis. 



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