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Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2013 04:06:25 +0400
From: Solar Designer <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] Any "large verifiers" on the panel?

On Sun, Feb 17, 2013 at 07:25:33PM -0500, Daniel Franke wrote:
> Jeremi Gosney <> writes:
> > You have to assume that if the passwords are compromised, the
> > encryption key is as well.
> I'm with all those who say that we shouldn't be granting this
> assumption.

I'd say it may be useful to grant or not grant this assumption in
different contexts.  Of course, we have to assume that our encryption
key or secret local parameter has been compromised when we design the
rest of our password hashing scheme.  If we don't make that assumption,
there's nothing else for us to do - "hey, the passwords are encrypted
and the key is not compromised, why hash them, let alone spend much CPU
and RAM on that?" - that's wrong, indeed.  We may want to have defense
in depth.  Our last resort defense - the costly hashing - is non-perfect
when we're dealing with low entropy passwords.  So we may reasonably use
another non-perfect layer of security, and yes it's non-perfect in
different ways.  In this context, we need to assume that the secret
key/parameter may or may not have been compromised, and we should design
our password hashing scheme (and the rest of the system, but that's not
PHC material) such that it's reasonable in either case.

> An adversary who has completely compromised a web server
> doesn't have to bother cracking password hashes at all.

This is not true.  Here are some good reasons why they may want to crack
the hashes anyway:

1. Persistence, without having to introduce changes into the system
(which may be spotted and undone by the defender).  The initial
vulnerability may be patched, and the backdoors may be removed or be
unsuitable to be installed, so the intruder will use real users'
passwords to continue getting into the system.

2. The accounts may be of value (for resale, for direct use by the
attacker, for indirect use of the information by the attacker).  In some
cases, this is (more conveniently) available via the passworded logins
(e.g., to sell 1 million accounts on a certain service to spammers).

3. Password reuse on other systems or sites.  The cracked passwords may
allow the attacker - or different attackers - to get into more accounts
of the same people.

4. Research (and not necessarily for sharing it with the "good guys"):
building of common password lists, character frequency statistics, etc.,
including specific to a target organization, a common password policy, a
password generator, etc.  This can help compromise more systems that are
in some way similar.

> He can just capture unhashed passwords as they arrive over the wire.

With a complete compromise, yes, but only for the duration of the
compromise.  That's a subset of all accounts.

> If we aren't
> completely wasting our time having this competition, then we should
> absolutely be thinking about what constitutes a realistic model of
> common partial-compromise scenarios, and what features we can add to a
> password-hashing scheme in order to make it more secure in that model.

As we've just seen, there's some difference of opinion in what's common,
so I suggest that we let PHC submission authors decide whether they want
to include the optional extras or not (this will also depend on how
difficult or easy it is for them to do that in a given case, which will
vary).  We won't be wasting our time even if we only get basic password
hashing schemes with no optional inputs, nor if we get password hashing
schemes with optional inputs.  This is not the most important aspect.

Of course, what's actually common is not a matter of opinion, but we
lack the statistics.  Besides, until the use of local parameters to
password hashing schemes becomes more common, we can't expect their
compromises to be common (or not).  We're simply not there yet.


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