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Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2014 23:43:32 -0400
From: Bill Cox <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] pufferfish

On Sun, Mar 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM, Jeremi Gosney <> wrote:
> I've pushed code to a public repository for the candidate I will be
> submitting, pufferfish. This repository will be frantically updated over
> the coming week as I prepare my submission, but I wanted to get some
> initial feedback before the cutoff.

My comments should not carry much weight compared to the guy's who've
already chimed in, but I did read your code.  It is well written, and
as a guy who reads a ton of more typical open source code, I really
appreciate that.  I liked the gen-salt concept, which is new to me.  I
was thinking that managing all the parameters for a sophisticated PHS
is a lot to put on a user, and given your KISS oriented entry, I like
that this was the feature that you put a few extra lines of code into.

> As the name implies, pufferfish is an improvement upon bcrypt, and ergo
> blowfish. Concisely stated, pufferfish modifies the blowfish algorithm
> to use 64-bit words, a 128-bit block size, and dynamic s-boxes. The
> reference implementation uses a fixed key size of 256 bits, simply
> because for these purposes there is no need to support different key
> lengths.
> The dynamic s-boxes are of course the biggest differentiating factor
> between pufferfish and blowfish. The s-box generation is as follows:
> 1. Hash the raw salt as sha512
> 2. hmac-sha512 the password using the hashed salt as the key
> 3. hmac-sha512 the password again, using the output of the hmac
> operation in step 2 as the key
> 4. These two hmac hashes are concatenated to initialize the 1024-bit state
> 5. The four s-boxes are each filled with m_cost / 4 / sizeof (uint64_t)
> words by iterating over the internal state with a variant of chacha8
> The state is then iterated 64 more times with chacha8 to generate a
> third hmac key, which is used to hmac-sha512 the password one more time
> to generate the inital encryption key.

This seems a bit complicated to me for a nice simple password hashing
function.  I'm still fairly new to this stuff, but after reading the
code and a couple papers describing motivations behind HMAC, PBKDF2,
and HKDF, I feel that even these simple key derivation functions have
more complexity than we need for a memory hard PHS.  HMAC seems
designed to allow random stream ciphers to be used securely, but in
our case, we're specifying the allowed secure block hash functions,
and I can't see any reason for an inner HMAC wrapper around SHA-512,
especially when we're already doing an HKDF-like extract and expand,
similar to HMAC's inner and outer contexts.

I prefer Catena's approach of trusting the underlying hash function
and passing all of the input parameters to it for the extract step,
and dropping HMAC.

> The rest of the construction is largely identical to bcrypt, using the
> same eksblowfish algorithm. However, to support variable output lengths,
> the 256-bit ciphertext is hashed with sha512 after being repeatedly
> encrypted before being written to the output buffer.

Similar to my thoughts above, do you need to go the extra mile in
hashing the output blocks?  If I read the code correctly, you're doing
64 rounds of hashing on the internal key state, and then using SHA512
to hash it one more time to become part of the output result.  Don't
we trust SHA512 enough to just send it your internal key state and a
counter?  Wouldn't that be just as secure?

> I elected to use this design because I really like bcrypt, and I really
> like the idea of being memory hard while using as little memory as
> possible. And I believe that the modifications I have made increase the
> effectiveness and extend the longevity of the original bcrypt design.

Other people on this list also seem impressed by Bcrypt.  I haven't
read it yet :-(

I guess extending bcrypt into the future is a good thing.  I'm not a
fan of sticking to tiny memory sizes that either fit in L1 cache or
barely bust out.  I'd rather make an attacker pay for multiple GiB of
memory for a full second per guess, but I understand there is a need
for in-cache hashing.

My concern over people going the Bcrypt route is that we may soon see
commodity multi-CPU chips with as many as 1024 independent processors,
all capable of computing Bcrypt rapidly.  You can defeat that by
hashing 1MiB or more, so that each processor will not have enough
local memory, but Bcrypt's 4KiB seems like the ideal target for these
new multi-CPU chips.  Modern GPUs may have trouble, but Bcrypt has
nothing I've seen so far to make me feel confident in using it to
protect my passwords over the next 10 years.

> The reference code is clear, concise, and extensively commented, so it
> should easy to read, especially if you are already familiar with
> blowfish and/or bcrypt. I welcome your feedback.
> - epixoip

The reference code is both clear and concise.  Very nice!


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