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Date: Thu, 4 Sep 2014 00:45:29 +0200
From: Thomas Pornin <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] Cryptographically strong salt is not overkill

On Wed, Sep 03, 2014 at 05:37:27PM -0400, Bill Cox wrote:
> If any salt generator that produces data that is distinguishable from
> random data makes it into CipherShed, I will be pretty pissed off.
> Don't forget that some users have a valid need to store the salt in
> plain-text without letting an attacker know that it is in fact not
> just random data.

I'll still stand by my assertion. A cryptographically strong PRNG
is overkill for a salt.

It so happens that a cryptographically strong PRNG is needed for the
generation of any value which must be able to disguise as random bytes.
In your case, you seem to have a scenario where some piece of data must
fulfil two distinct set of constraints simultaneously: it must be good
as a salt (i.e. it offers uniqueness with overwhelming probability), AND
it must also be indistinguishable from random data. In that case, a
CSPRNG will do the trick. However, the need for strong randomness does
not come from the saltness, but from the other, completely orthogonal
constraint coming from your specific scenario.

To state things simply: while salts don't need a CSPRNG, a salt which
also needs for some other reason to "look random", well, must look
random, and that implies a CSPRNG at some point. There is nothing
special about salts here.

In any case, while the Makwa reference code can generate salts for you
(and this is good for a simple, string-based API: automatic salt
generation reduces risks of misusage), it can also work on externally
provided salt values (Makwa accepts any sequence of bytes as salt).

	--Thomas Pornin

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