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Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2014 22:33:54 -0400
From: Bill Cox <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] HKDF has collisions with different salts

On Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 9:38 PM, Peter Gutmann
<> wrote:
> This dates back to Abadi and Needham's "Prudent Engineering Practice for
> Cryptographic Protocols", circa 1996 or so.  One of their design principles
> was "every message should say what it means", i.e. there should be no
> ambiguity about interpreting its content.  Take for example SSHv1
> fingerprints:
>   hash( n || e )
> where n and e are the raw values.  This creates an equivalence class of keys
> where you can interpret the composite string 'n || e' as a variety of
> different keys based on which bits you choose to be n and which you choose to
> be e.  So defining an input format that makes it very clear what data belongs
> to which element is critically important.  This can be done either explicitly
> (PBKDF2 does this, with distinct input parameters for the salt, iteration
> count, and secret value), or explicitly (by defining a marshalled format for
> the data for a generic KDF).
> Peter.

The way I insure I've got the data right is by being sure that I could
parse the binary key material and recreate all the inputs from it.  If
there's not enough information to do that, you haven't hashed enough
inputs.  If there are two possible interpretations for a binary
string, then there are two strings for the same interpretation, and
thus collisions.

I have to admit that I thought I could get away without hashing the
salt length, because I passed it to hkdfReset, and I figured it would
take care of it.  Do'h!


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