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Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2014 06:31:17 +0400
From: Solar Designer <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] cache timing attacks (Re: [PHC] Initial multiply-compute-hardened Catena-3 benchmark)

On Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 09:07:43PM -0500, Bill Cox wrote:
> If there is a machine generated true random secret of even 128 bits,
> the attacker might as well pack it up and go home.  Any password
> protected by that is secure against guessing in off-line attacks.  The
> attacker would be better off repeatedly querying the server.  Keeping
> the salt secret is just like giving up on salt and using it instead
> like a Blakerypt style "session key", which is random bits meant to be
> secret.  I think salt has an important function on it's own, and we
> should reserve a separate place for a password dependent secret known
> only to the server.  For example, salt can be transmitted to clients
> for server relief, but session keys (probably a bad name) should not
> be sent anywhere.

Yes, these should be separate.

And yes, until the secret has leaked, it defeats cache timing attacks.
(The usual per-hash salts do, too, if they're as large and as random and

> If there were two changes I could make to an enhanced PHC function
> prototype, it would be adding a session key, and a flag saying it's OK
> to clear the password before filling memory.

No need: the PHC function prototype isn't meant to include all
parameters that a PHC candidate password hashing scheme may have.
It may have a native API with more parameters.  escrypt will.

> Is there a better word
> for describing secret password-dependent keys than session keys?

I think you're focusing on Blakerypt too much when asking this question.
Why multiple password-dependent keys?  For just a secret, I call it
"local parameter":

which is a term that has been used (a little bit) since 1995 (or earlier):

An alternative to that is encrypting the hashes with a key, so that it
can be changed.  (This also eliminates the need for local parameter IDs
when merging password hash databases, because the hashes can then be
simply re-encrypted to a common key when the merging is being performed.)
I think it should be called simply "encryption key", for what it is (or
"secret key"? but that carries less meaning).

Encrypting the hashes has no effect on cache timings, though, so we'd be
relying only on per-hash salts for that, then - or would need a local
parameter as well.  (I don't like having both an encryption key and a
local parameter at once because of the added complexity and confusion.)


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