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Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:10:04 +0200
From: Thomas Pornin <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] An additional PHS API to include a string?

On Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 10:40:43AM -0400, Rich Felker wrote:
> +1, but I don't think this is easy. For example depending on the
> application, this may involve Unicode normalization forms, and I don't
> think processing them belongs at this level; it's complex and
> error-prone. Do you have ideas on the matter?

My ideas so far on normalization forms are:

 - They are mostly out of scope of the password hashing function properly

 - BUT they must be minded by system implementors. Password entry
   devices (e.g. popup windows, command-line prompts...) will return the
   password characters with some convention. For proper operation, all
   devices used for a given password must agree on the normalization
   form. This is especially important for password-based encryption
   where several distinct systems will need to turn the same password
   into the same key (for the "authenticate users on a server", password
   hashing can be centralized, which makes encoding issues easier to
   deal with).

 - If a normalization form must be chosen (and it must be chosen at some
   point in the whole system), then NFC is probably the best choice,
   since that's what you will get anyway from most password entry
   devices. Easiest normalization is the one which is already done.

The conventions I used for Makwa reference implementations are the

 - In C, for the string-based API, assume that the input password has
   already be encoded properly (UTF-8) in a zero-terminated string.
   (The "binary" API can apply Makwa on an arbitrary sequence of bytes,
   including one with embedded zeros.)

 - In Java, for the string-based API, the password is provided as a
   String instance, that is encoded in UTF-8 with str.getBytes("UTF-8").
   (Do NOT use str.getBytes(), because the used encoding will be

So I assume that any normalization (and encoding, in the case of C)(*)
has already occurred. The alternative would be to include some
renormalization code, which would imply massive tables (generated from
the Unicode standard files), and would certainly allow cache-timing
attacks. In fact, in a client-server classic authentication scenario,
one may argue that password normalization MUST happen on the client
side, precisely to avoid such attacks -- and this means that the
relevant code must not be part of the password hashing function

	--Thomas Pornin

(*) Notably, I elected NOT to offer a function which expects the
password as a sequence of wchar_t. There is no guarantee that wchar_t
encode Unicode code points, making portable conversion very challenging.
Even in practice, Unix-like systems will routinely use 32-bit wchar_t,
while Windows uses 16-bit wchar_t, which changes things for code points
beyond the first plane.

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