DUHK: Don’t Use Hard-Coded Keys

The title reads like the name of a lecture in cryptography 101 or the first rule of Crypto Club. ‘DUHK‘ is in fact neither of those but the name of a recently disclosed vulnerability in a pseudorandom number generating algorithm (PNRG) that was until recently part of the federal standard X9.31.

Random numbers are essential to viable cryptography. They are also hard to obtain leading to solutions like using the physical properties of semiconductors or decaying matter, that are governed by quantum effects. The next best solution is to log events that are hard to predict like the timing of strokes on a keyboard. The weakest source of randomness is math, which makes sense, because one of maths most popular features is its predictability. Mathematical solutions have the one redeeming quality of being able to produce a lot of numbers that look random to a human in a short time.

PNRGs require a starting point from which they begin to produce their output. Once this seed is known the produced sequence becomes predictable.

The X9.31 PNRG is an algorithm that is used in various cryptographic algorithms and has been certified in the Federal Information Processing Standards for decades until it was dropped from the list of approved standards in 2016. The researchers behind DUHK found out that the standard allowed the seed to be stored in the source code of its implementation. The next step was to look for software that did this and they found X9.31 in an older version of FortiOS running on VPN gateways.

Should I be Worried?

Probably, maybe not. The analysis (PDF) published by the team behind DUHK notes that the vulnerability is limited to legacy implementations and doesn’t allow to takeover the device running them, only to eavesdrop on ‘secure’ connections. The scope of this is much more limited than exploits like remote code execution via bluetooth. It is on the other hand providing a strong case for handling standards and technical certifications with extreme scrutiny. The teams conduct also gives insight into the best practises for white-hat hacking which are frequently discussed around here. And they have a great theme song.

33C3: Understanding Mobile Messaging and its Security

If you had to explain why you use one mobile messaging service over another to your grandmother, would you be able to? Does she even care about forward secrecy or the difference between a private and public key is? Maybe she would if she understood the issues in relation to “normal” human experiences: holding secret discussions behind closed doors and sending letters wrapped in envelopes.

Or maybe your grandmother is the type who’d like to completely re-implement the messaging service herself, open source and verifiably secure. Whichever grandma you’ve got, she should watch [Roland Schilling] and [Frieder Steinmetz]’s talk where they give both a great introduction into what you might want out of a secure messaging system, and then review what they found while tearing apart Threema, a mobile messaging service that’s popular in Germany. Check out the slides (PDF). And if that’s not enough, they provided the code to back it up: an open workalike of the messaging service itself.

This talk makes a great introduction, by counterexample, to the way that other messaging applications work. The messaging service is always in the middle of a discussion, and whether they’re collecting metadata about you and your conversations to use for their own marketing purposes (“Hiya, Whatsapp!”) or not, it’s good to see how a counterexample could function.

The best quote from the talk? “Cryptography is rarely, if ever, the solution to a security problem. Cryptography is a translation mechanism, usually converting a communications security problem into a key management problem.” Any channel can be made secure if all parties have enough key material. The implementation details of getting those keys around, making sure that the right people have the right keys, and so on, are the details in which the devil lives. But these details matter, and as mobile messaging is a part of everyday life, it’s important that the workings are transparently presented to the users. This talk does a great job on the demystification front.