INTERNET-DRAFT                                               E. Rescorla
<draft-ietf-smime-pkcs1-01.txt>                              RTFM, Inc.
                                    (March 2000
                                    (September 2001 (Expires September 2001) March 2002)

              Preventing the Million Message Attack on CMS

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.  Internet-Drafts are working
   documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas,
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1.  Introduction

   When data is encrypted using RSA it must be padded out to the length
   of the modulus--typically 512 to 2048 bits.  he  The most popular tech-
   nique for doing this is described in [PKCS-1]. [PKCS-1-v1.5]. However, in 1998 Ble-
   Bleichenbacher described an adaptive chosen ciphertext attack on SSL
   [MMA]. This attack, called the Million Message Attack, allowed the
   recovery of a single PKCS-1 encrypted block, provided that the
   attacker could convince the receiver to act as a particular kind of
   oracle. (An oracle is a program which answers queries based on infor-
   mation unavailable to the requester (in this case the private key)).
   The MMA is also possible against [CMS]. The CMS implementa-
   tions  Mail list agents are the
   most likely CMS implementations to be targets for the MMA MMA, since mail
   list agents are automated servers
   such as mailing list agents, which will that automatically respond to a
   large number of messages.  This document describes a strategy for
   resisting such attacks.

2.  Overview of PKCS-1

   The first stage in RSA encryption is to map the message to be
   encrypted (in CMS a symmetric Content Encryption Content-Encryption Key (CEK)) into an
   integer of the same order length as (but numerically less than) the RSA modulus modu-
   lus of the recipient's public key (typically somewhere between 512

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   and 2048 bits). PKCS-1 describes the most common procedure for this transfor-

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   We start with an "encryption block" of the same length as the modu-
   lus. The rightmost bits bytes of the string block are set to the message to be
   encrypted.  The first two bytes are a zero byte and a "block type"
   byte. For encryption the block type is 2. The remaining bytes are
   used as padding. The padding is constructed by generating a series of
   non-zero random bytes. The last padding byte is zero, which allows
   the padding to be distinguished from the message.

     | 0 | 2 | Nonzero random bytes | 0 |      Message        |

   Once the block has been formatted, the sender must then convert the
   block into an integer. This is done by treating the block as an inte-
   ger in big-endian form. Thus, the resulting number is less than the
   modulus (because the first byte is zero), but within a factor of more or less the
   same order 2^16
   (because the second byte is 2).

   In CMS, the message is always a randomly generated symmetric content content-
   encryption key (CEK). Depending on the cipher being used it might be
   anywhere from 64 8 to 256 32 bytes.

   There must be at least 8 bytes of non-random. non-zero padding. The padding prevents pre-
   vents an attacker from verifying guesses about the encrypted message.
   Imagine that the attacker wishes to determine whether or not two RSA-
   encrypted keys are the same. Because there are at least 2^64 differ-
   ent 255^8 (about
   2^64) different padding value values with high probability two encryptions
   of the same message will be different. The padding also prevents the
   attacker from verifying guessed CEKs by trial-encrypting them with
   the recipi-
   ent's recipient's RSA key since he must try each potential pad for
   every guess. Note that a lower cost attack would be to exhaustively
   search the CEK space by trial-decrypting the content and examining
   the plaintext to see if it appears reasonable.

2.1.  The Million Message Attack

   The purpose of the Million Message Attack (MMA) is to recover a sin-
   gle plaintext (formatted block) given the ciphertext. ciphertext (encrypted
   block).  The attacker first captures the ciphertext in transit and
   then uses the recipient as an oracle to recover the plaintext by
   sending transformed versions of the cipher-
   text ciphertext and observing the
   recipient's response.

   Call the ciphertext C. The attacker then generates a series of inte-
   gers S and computes C'=C(S^e) mod n. Upon decryption, C' produces a

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   corresponding plaintext M'. Most M's values of M' will appear to be
   garbage but some M's values of M' (about one in 2^16) will have the correct cor-
   rect first two bytes 00 02 and thus appear to be correctly properly PKCS-1 formatted. for-
   matted. The attack pro-
   ceeds proceeds by finding a sequence of values S such
   that the resulting M' is

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   correctly properly PKCS-1 formatted. This information
   can be used to discover M. Operationally, this attack usually
   requires about 2^20 messages and responses. Details can be found in

2.2.  Applicability

   Since the MMA requires so many messages, it must be mounted against a
   victim who is willing to process a large number of messages. In prac-
   tice, no human is willing to read this many messages and so the MMA
   can only be mounted against an automated victim.

   The MMA also requires that the attacker be able to distinguish cases
   where M' was PKCS-1 formatted from cases where it was not.  In the
   case of CMS the attacker will be sending CMS messages with M' C' replac-
   ing the wrapped CEK. Thus, there are five possibilities:

   1. M' is improperly formatted.
   2. M' is properly formatted but the CEK is prima facie bogus
   (wrong length, etc.)
   3. M' is properly formatted and the CEK appears OK. A signature
   or MAC is present so integrity checking fails.
   4. M' is properly formatted and no integrity check is applied.
   In this case there is some possibility (approximately 1/8) 1/32) that
   the CBC padding block will verify correctly. properly. (The actual probability
   depends highly on the receiving implementation. See "Note on
   Block Cipher Padding" below). The message will
   appear OK at the CMS level but will be bogus at the application
   5. M' is properly formatted and the resulting CEK is correct.
   This is extremely improbable but not impossible.

   The MMA requires the attacker to be able to distinguish case 1 from
   cases 2-4. (He can always distinguish case 5, of course). This might
   happen if the victim returned different errors for each case. The
   attacker might also be able to distinguish these cases based on tim-
   ing--decrypting the message and verifying the signature takes some
   time.  If the victim responds uniformly to all four errors then no
   attack is possible.

2.2.1.  Note on Block Cipher Padding

   [CMS] specifies a particular kind of block cipher padding in which
   the final cipher block is padded with bytes containing the length of

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   the padding. For instance, a 5-byte block would be padded with three
   bytes of value 03, as in:

     XX XX XX XX XX 03 03 03

   [CMS] does not specify how this padding is to be removed but merely
   observes that it is unambiguous. An implementation might simply get
   the value of the final byte and truncate appropriately or might ver-
   ify that all the padding bytes are correct. If the receiver simply
   truncates then the probability that a random block will appear to be
   properly padded is roughly 1/8. If the receiver checks all the
   padding bytes, then the probability is 1/256 + (1/256^2) + ...
   (roughly 1/255).

2.3.  Countermeasures

2.3.1.  Careful Checking

   Even without countermeasures, sufficiently careful checking can go
   quite a long way to mitigating the success of the MMA.  If the
   receiving implementation also checks the length of the CEK and the
   parity bits (if available) AND responds identically to all such
   errors, the chances of a given M' being correctly properly formatted are sub-
   stantially decreased. This increases the number of probe messages

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   required to recover M. However, this sort of checking only increases
   the workfactor and does not eliminate the attack entirely because
   some messages will still be correctly properly formatted up to the point of
   keylength. However, the combination of all three kinds of checking
   (padding, length, parity bits) increases the number of messages to
   the point where the attack is impractical.

2.3.2.  Random Filling

   The simplest countermeasure is to treat misformatted messages as if
   they were correctly properly PKCS-1 formatted. When the victim detects an
   improperly formatted message, instead of returning an error he sub-
   stitutes a randomly generated message. In CMS, since the message is
   always a wrapped content encryption content-encryption key (CEK) the victm victim should simply sim-
   ply substitute a randomly generated CEK of appropriate length and con-
   continue. Eventually this will result in a decryption or signature veri-
   verification error but this is exactly what would have happened if M'
   happened to be correctly formatted. properly formatted but contained an incorrect CEK.
   Note that this approach also prevents the attacker from distinguish-
   ing various failure cases via timing behavior
   will also identical. since all failures return
   roughly the same timing behavior. (The time required to generate the
   random-padding is negligible in almost all cases. If an implementa-
   tion has a very slow PRNG it can generate random padding for every
   message and simply discard it if the CEK decrypts correctly).

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   In a layered implementation it's quite possible that the PKCS-1 check
   occurs at a point in the code where the length of the expected CEK is
   not known. In that case the implementation must ensure that bad
   PKCS-1 padding and ok-looking PKCS-1 padding with an incorrect length
   CEK behave the same. An easy way to do this is to also randomize CEKs
   that are of the wrong length or otherwise improperly formatted. formatted when
   they are processed at the layer that knows the length.

   Note: It is a mistake to use a fixed CEK because the attacker could
   then produce a CMS message encrypted with that CEK. This message
   would decrypt correctly, properly (i.e. appear to be a completely valid CMS
   application to the receiver), thus allowing the attacker to determine
   that the PKCS-1 formatting was incorrect.  In fact, the randomly generated new CEK
   should be cryptographically random, thus preventing the attacker from
   guessing the next "random" CEK to be used.

2.3.3.  OAEP

   Optimal Asymmetric Encryption Padding (OAEP) [OAEP, PKCS1v2] PKCS-1-v2] is
   another technique for padding a message into an RSA encryption block.
   Implementations using OAEP are not susceptible to the MMA. However,
   OAEP is incompatible with PKCS-1. Implementations of S/MIME and CMS
   must therefore continue to use PKCS-1 for the foreseable future. foreseeable future if
   they wish to communicate with current widely deployed implementa-
   tions. OAEP is being specified for use with AES keys in CMS so this
   provides an upgrade path to OAEP.

2.4.  Security Considerations

   This entire document describes how to avoid a certain class of
   attacks when performing PKCS-1 decryption with RSA.


   Thanks to Burt Kaliski and Russ Housley for their extensive and help-
   ful comments.

   CMS           Housley, R., "Cryptographic Message Syntax", RFC 2630,
                 June 1999.

   MMA        Bleichenbacher, D., "Chosen Ciphertext Attacks against
              Protocols based on RSA Encryption Standard PKCS #1",
              Advances in Cryptology -- CRYPTO 98.

   MMAUPDATE     D. Bleichenbacher, B. Kaliski, and J. Staddon, "Recent
              Results on PKCS #1: RSA Encryption Standard",
                 RSA Laboratories' Bulletin #7, June 26, 1998.

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   OAEP       Bellare, M., Rogaway, P., "Optimal Asymmetric Encryption
              Padding", Advances in Cryptology -- Eurocrypt 94.

   PKCS-1-v1.5   Kaliski, B., "PKCS #1: RSA Encryption, Version 1.5.",
                 RFC 2313, March 1998.

   PKCS-1-v2     Kaliski, B., "PKCS #1: RSA Encryption, Version 2.0",
                 RFC 2347, October 1998.

Author's Address
Eric Rescorla <>
RTFM, Inc.
2439 Alvin
2064 Edgewood Drive
Mountain View,
Palo Alto, CA 94043 94303
Phone: (650) 314-0116 320-8549

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                           Table of Contents

1. Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   1
2. Overview of PKCS-1  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   1
2.1. The Million Message Attack  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
2.2. Applicability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
2.2.1. Note on Block Cipher Padding  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
2.3. Countermeasures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3   4
2.3.1. Careful Checking  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3   4
2.3.2. Random Filling  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
2.3.3. OAEP  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4   5
2.4. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4   5
2.4. Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
2.4. References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5   6