Paper 2016/759

Towards Practical Attacks on Argon2i and Balloon Hashing

Joël Alwen and Jeremiah Blocki


The algorithm Argon2i-B of Biryukov, Dinu and Khovratovich is currently being considered by the IRTF (Internet Research Task Force) as a new de-facto standard for password hashing. An older version (Argon2i-A) of the same algorithm was chosen as the winner of the recent Password Hashing Competition. An important competitor to Argon2i-B is the recently introduced Balloon Hashing (BH) algorithm of Corrigan-Gibs, Boneh and Schechter. A key security desiderata for any such algorithm is that evaluating it (even using a custom device) requires a large amount of memory amortized across multiple instances. Alwen and Blocki (CRYPTO 2016) introduced a class of theoretical attacks against Argon2i-A and BH. While these attacks yield large asymptotic reductions in the amount of memory, it was not, a priori, clear if (1) they can be extended to the newer Argon2i-B, (2) the attacks are effective on any algorithm for practical parameter ranges (e.g., 1GB of memory) and (3) if they can be effectively instantiated against any algorithm under realistic hardware constrains. In this work we answer all three of these questions to the affirmative for all three algorithms. It is also the first work to analyze the security of Argon2i-B. In more detail, we extend the theoretical attacks of Alwen and Blocki (CRYPTO 2016) to the recent Argon2i-B proposal demonstrating severe asymptotic deficiencies in its security. Next we introduce several novel heuristics for improving the attack's concrete memory efficiency even when on-chip memory bandwidth is bounded. We then simulate our attacks on randomly sampled Argon2i-A, Argon2i-B and BH instances and measure the resulting memory consumption for various practical parameter ranges and for a variety of upperbounds on the amount of parallelism available to the attacker. Finally we describe, implement and test a new heuristic for applying the Alwen-Blocki attack to functions employing a technique developed by Corrigan-Gibs et al. for improving concrete security of memory-hard functions. We analyze the collected data and show the effects various parameters have on the memory consumption of the attack. In particular, we can draw several interesting conclusions about the level of security provided by these functions. \begin{itemize} \item For the Alwen-Blocki attack to fail against practical memory parameters, Argon2i-B must be instantiated with more than 10 passes on memory. The current IRTF proposal calls even just 6 passes as the recommended ``paranoid'' setting. \item More generally, the parameter selection process in the proposal is flawed in that it tends towards producing parameters for which the attack is successful (even under realistic constraints on parallelism). \item The technique of Corrigan-Gibs for improving security can also be overcome by the Alwen-Blocki attack under realistic hardware constraints. \item On a positive note, both the asymptotic and concrete security of Argon2i-B seem to improve on that of Argon2i-A. \end{itemize}

Available format(s)
Publication info
Preprint. MINOR revision.
Data Independent Memory Hard FunctionsArgon2iAttacksImplementation
Contact author(s)
jblocki @ purdue edu
2016-08-10: received
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Joël Alwen and Jeremiah Blocki},
      title = {Towards Practical Attacks on Argon2i and Balloon Hashing},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2016/759},
      year = {2016},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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