Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2009/331

Security Notions and Generic Constructions for Client Puzzles

L. Chen and P. Morrissey and N.P. Smart and B. Warinschi

Abstract: Computational puzzles are mildly difficult computational problems that require resources (processor cycles, memory, or both) to solve. Puzzles have found a variety of uses in security. In this paper we are concerned with {\em client puzzles}: a type of puzzle used as a defense against Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. Before engaging in a resource consuming protocol with a client, a server demands that the client solves a freshly generated client puzzle. Despite their widespread use, the lack of formal models for security of client puzzles prevents a full analysis of proposed puzzles and, more importantly, prevents rigorous proofs for the effectiveness of puzzles as a DoS defense. The main contribution of this paper is a formal model for the security of client puzzles as a stepping stone towards solving the above problems. We clarify the interface that client puzzles should offer and give two security notions for puzzles. Both functionality and security are inspired by, and tailored to, the use of puzzles as a defense against DoS attacks. The first notion -- puzzle unforgeability -- requires that an adversary is unable to produce valid looking puzzles on its own. The second notion -- puzzle-difficulty -- requires that an adversary spends at least an appropriate amount of resources solving puzzles. Our definitions fill an important gap: breaking either of the two properties immediately leads to successful DoS attacks. We illustrate this point with an attack against a previously proposed puzzle construction. We show that a subtle flaw renders the construction forgeable and we explain how to exploit this flaw to mount a DoS attack on certain protocols that use this puzzle.

We also provide a generic construction of a client puzzle. Our construction uses a pseudorandom function family to provide unforgeability and a one way function for the difficulty. We prove our generic construction meets our definitions of unforgeability and difficulty for client puzzles. Finally, we discuss and analyze (in the random oracle model) a practical instantiation of our construction based on hash functions.

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Date: received 6 Jul 2009

Contact author: nigel at cs bris ac uk

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Version: 20090707:220003 (All versions of this report)

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