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Date: Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:20:42 -0700
From: Bill Cox <>
To: "" <>
Subject: Re: [PHC] Why protect against side channel attacks

On Wed, Jun 24, 2015 at 12:12 PM, Greg Zaverucha <>

>  Suppose you use password hashing function X in many products and
> services, in a range of contexts (on mobile devices, PCs, servers, in VMs,
> etc…).  Now suppose that cache-timing attacks against X are shown to be
> practical, someone has released an attack tool, and it’s in the news under
> the name PasswordBleed, and someone has even made a logo for it.  The tool
> needs the salt and username.  It works by observing the cache access
> pattern of a victim process/VM, which narrows down the search space to a
> set of passwords small enough to attack online (i.e., the tool re-computes
> the hashes for passwords in a dictionary and compares their access patterns
> to the observed pattern, those that are close are kept). So no breach has
> occurred and no hashes were leaked.  (I realize that in most systems the
> salts aren’t public, but I think we all agree that X should not get weaker
> if the salt is known).

While this is true, I still would prefer to see a "main" winner that uses a
hybrid architecture, with a cache-timing resistant first loop followed by
an unpredictable memory access loop (like Scrypt and Lyra2, and Yescrypt in
Scrypt compatible mode).  As a special additional category, I'd also like
to see a "cache-timing resistant" winner, with the understanding that most
users would be advised to use the "main" winner.

Here's the trade-off I see in security for a hybrid architecture like Lyra2
vs a pure cache-timing resistant architecture like Catena/Argon2i:


- An attacker with usernames and salts, who can mount a cache timing attack
and associate the cache timing signatures with user accounts, can recover
the password and does not require a password hashes to do it.  However, it
is expensive per password cracked, similar to an off-line attack, maybe
2-6X cheaper.
- Without the salts, an attacker can still see when cache-timing signatures
re-occurred, leaking knowledge of when users login.
- The hybrid architecture retains full time*memory defense against common
off-line attacks.
- The hybrid architecture retains full defense against common TMTO attacks.

Cache-timing resistant:

- Against the common off-line guessing attack, it will be 2-3X cheaper to
crack passwords, since cache-timing-resistant algorithms run with 2-3X
lower memory*time defense in general.
- Massively parallel attacks are more effective, since the data access
pattern is known in advance.  Memory I/O can be heavily pipelined.
- In a TMTO attack, any required computations can be done in advance, since
an attacker knows when the data is needed, speeding up the attack.
- In a TMTO attack, an attacker does fewer recomputations, since he can
choose values to free from memory that he knows can quickly be recomputed.

I feel that the overall security advantage lies heavily with the hybrid


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