Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2020/1452

ASAP: Algorithm Substitution Attacks on Cryptographic Protocols

Sebastian Berndt and Jan Wichelmann and Claudius Pott and Tim-Henrik Traving and Thomas Eisenbarth

Abstract: The security of digital communication relies on few cryptographic protocols that are used to protect internet traffic, from web sessions to instant messaging. These protocols and the cryptographic primitives they rely on have been extensively studied and are considered secure.Yet, sophisticated attackers are often able to bypass rather than break security mechanisms. Kleptography or algorithm substitution attacks (ASA) describe techniques to place backdoors right into cryptographic primitives. While highly relevant as a building block, we show that the real danger of ASAs is their use in cryptographic protocols. In fact, we show that a highly desirable security property of these protocols - forward secrecy - implies the applicability of ASAs. We then analyze the application of ASAs in three widely used protocols: TLS, WireGuard, and Signal. We show that these protocols can be easily subverted by carefully placing ASAs. Our analysis shows that careful design of ASAs makes detection unlikely while leaking long-term secrets within a few messages in the case of TLS and WireGuard, allowing impersonation attacks. In contrast, Signal's double-ratchet protocol shows high immunity to ASAs, as the leakage requires much more messages. But once Signal's long-term key is leaked, the security of the Signal messenger is completely subverted by our attack due to unfortunate choices in the implementation of Signal's multi-device support.

Category / Keywords: cryptographic protocols / algorithm substitution attacks, kleptography, subverted algorithm, backdoors, forward security

Date: received 17 Nov 2020, last revised 17 Nov 2020

Contact author: sebastian berndt at gmail com

Available format(s): PDF | BibTeX Citation

Version: 20201119:094304 (All versions of this report)

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