Paper 2023/940

CryptAttackTester: high-assurance attack analysis

Daniel J. Bernstein
Tung Chou

Quantitative analyses of the costs of cryptographic attack algorithms play a central role in comparing cryptosystems, guiding the search for improved attacks, and deciding which cryptosystems to standardize. Unfortunately, these analyses often turn out to be wrong. Sometimes errors are not caught until years later. This paper introduces CryptAttackTester (CAT), a software framework for high-assurance quantification of attack effectiveness. CAT enforces complete definitions of attack algorithms all the way down through the model of computation, enforces complete definitions of probability predictions and cost predictions all the way down through the cost metric, and systematically tests the predictions on small-scale inputs. For example, CAT gives a fully defined meaning to the statement "the median cost of brute-force search for an AES-128 key is under 2^{141.89} bit operations", and provides clear, auditable reasons to believe that the statement is correct. This does not rule out all possible analysis errors, but with CAT it is no longer possible for bugs to hide inside ambiguous or untested security-level claims. The paper gives various examples of errors in the literature that survived typical informal testing practices and that would have been immediately caught if CAT-enforced links had been in place. As an important case study, the bulk of the current CAT release consists of full definitions of a broad spectrum of algorithms for information-set decoding (ISD), along with cost/probability predictions for each algorithm. ISD is the top attack strategy against the McEliece cryptosystem. The predictions cover interactions between (1) high-level search strategies from Prange, Lee–Brickell, Leon, Stern, Dumer, May–Meurer–Thomae, and Becker–Joux–May–Meurer; (2) random walks from Omura, Canteaut–Chabaud, Canteaut–Sendrier, and Bernstein–Lange–Peters; and (3) speedups in core subroutines such as linear algebra and sorting. The predictions also account for various attack overheads that were omitted from previous analyses. These gaps add up to roughly 10 bits, depending on parameters. CAT's tests easily catch much smaller errors than this. The cost metric selected in CAT has a very simple definition, is a lower bound for the price-performance ratio of non-quantum special-purpose hardware (although the bound is loose for attacks bottlenecked by long-distance communication), and allows many optimization efforts to be shared with the design of cryptographic circuits.

Available format(s)
Attacks and cryptanalysis
Publication info
special-purpose hardwarecryptanalysisformal methodsAESMcEliece
Contact author(s)
authorcontact-cat @ box cr yp to
2023-10-23: revised
2023-06-15: received
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Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Daniel J. Bernstein and Tung Chou},
      title = {CryptAttackTester: high-assurance attack analysis},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2023/940},
      year = {2023},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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