Paper 2019/852

Weak-Key Distinguishers for AES

Lorenzo Grassi, Gregor Leander, Christian Rechberger, Cihangir Tezcan, and Friedrich Wiemer


In this paper, we analyze the security of AES in the case in which the whitening key is a weak key. After a systematization of the classes of weak-keys of AES, we perform an extensive analysis of weak-key distinguishers (in the single-key setting) for AES instantiated with the original key-schedule and with the new key-schedule proposed at ToSC/FSE'18 (which is faster than the standard key schedule and ensures a higher number of active S-Boxes). As one of the main results, we show that (almost) all the secret-key distinguishers for round-reduced AES currently present in the literature can be set up for a higher number of rounds of AES if the whitening key is a weak-key. Using these results as starting point, we describe a property for 9-round AES-128 and 12-round AES-256 in the chosen-key setting with complexity 264 without requiring related keys. These new chosen-key distinguishers -- set up by exploiting a variant of the multiple-of-8 property introduced at Eurocrypt'17 -- improve all the AES chosen-key distinguishers in the single-key setting. The entire analysis has been performed using a new framework that we introduce here -- called "weak-key subspace trails", which is obtained by combining invariant subspaces (Crypto'11) and subspace trails (FSE'17) into a new, more powerful, attack. Weak-key subspace trails are defined by extending the invariant subspace approach to allow for different subspaces in every round, something that so far only the subspace trail approach and a generalization for invariant subspace and invariant set attacks (Asiacrypt'18) were able to do. For an easier detection, we also provide an algorithm which finds these weak-key subspace trails.

Note: - Minor mistakes have been corrected. - Acknowledgment has been updated.

Available format(s)
Secret-key cryptography
Publication info
Published elsewhere. MINOR revision.SAC 2020
AESKey ScheduleWeak-KeysInvariant SubspacesChosen-Key Distinguisher
Contact author(s)
lgrassi @ science ru nl
2020-12-16: last of 3 revisions
2019-07-23: received
See all versions
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Lorenzo Grassi and Gregor Leander and Christian Rechberger and Cihangir Tezcan and Friedrich Wiemer},
      title = {Weak-Key Distinguishers for AES},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2019/852},
      year = {2019},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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