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Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2014 16:59:38 +0200
From: Thomas Pornin <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] on timing attacks

On Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 04:25:34PM +0200, Krisztián Pintér wrote:
> no surprise modern crypto primitives/impls don't use secret based
> branching/indexing.

This may also be due (at least in part) to performance reasons.
Data-dependent branching will behave poorly with regards to jump
prediction within the CPU. Contrary to password hashing, most
cryptographic algorithms try to be fast, not slow.

Similarly, data-dependent indexing usually means trouble when trying to
implement the algorithm on ASIC or FPGA. The usual example is RC4, which
is quite efficient on a PC (in the 1990s, it was much faster than almost
all other symmetric encryption algorithms) but really cumbersome, large
and slow when building a dedicated circuit. Even if there was no
cache-timing attack, we would still, for performance reasons, avoid
data-dependent indexing; or we would do it only for operations which
have a regular enough internal structure to allow for optimized circuits
(typical example being GCM: software will commonly use a table, while
hardware would rely on a GF(2^128) multiplier, possibly with a LFSR if
die area is more important than latency).

Of course, cache-timing attacks are enough to promote the design of
algorithms which do no data-dependent indexing at all. But my point is
that this "ban" integrates within a larger trend: the definition of
algorithms which behave well (i.e. fast) both in software and in
dedicated hardware circuits.

To a large extent, password hashing works in a complete opposite
direction: we really want algorithms which do _not_ behave well at all
when used in anything else than the software platform of the defender
(often an x86 PC, never a FPGA).

	--Thomas Pornin

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