SHA-3 hash finalist Schneier calls for halt in crypto contest

'No award' in algorithm bake-off would be best, says Bruce


A US government agency will soon announce which of five remaining candidate algorithms will become SHA-3, the new hash function to replace SHA-1 and SHA-2. The latter is a key component in various security technologies, from SSL and SSH to PGP and IPsec, and must be used by law in certain US government applications.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology's decision to name the winning algorithm will mark the end of a six-year competition.

However one of the software authors still in the running, cryptography guru Bruce Schneier, hopes that all five functions - including his own - will be passed over. The "no award" decision Schneier wants would effectively leave the competition open until a compelling reason to make a change emerges.

"It's not that the new hash functions aren't any good, it's that we don't really need one," Schneier explained in a blog post. "When we started this process back in 2006, it looked as if we would be needing a new hash function soon. The SHA family (which is really part of the MD4 and MD5 family), was under increasing pressure from new types of cryptanalysis. We didn't know how long the various SHA-2 variants would remain secure. But it's 2012, and SHA-512 is still looking good.

"Even worse, none of the SHA-3 candidates is significantly better. Some are faster, but not orders of magnitude faster. Some are smaller in hardware, but not orders of magnitude smaller. When SHA-3 is announced, I'm going to recommend that, unless the improvements are critical to their application, people stick with the tried and true SHA-512. At least for a while."

A cryptographic hash algorithm converts data into a shortened "message digest" from which it is, ideally, impossible to recover the original information. This one-way technique is used to generate digital signatures that confirm a message or file is from a genuine source - and other scenarios where you don't want to reveal your secret cryptographic key, but at least prove you have it in your possession.

As well as the strength and elegance of each wannabe SHA-3 algorithm, the performance and power consumption on battery-powered computers, such as smartphones, will be a crucial deciding factor.

Teams of competing cryptographers were invited take a crack at smashing rival algorithms, or at least unearthing potential flaws.

The overall competition is similar to the contest for the function to underpin the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The Rijndael cipher won this competition in 2002, and was adopted as the standard for AES. Its subsequent adoption by the US made it the gold standard for cryptography, superseding the Data Encryption Standard (DES).

Schneier's Twofish algorithm made it into the final five of the AES competition, but lost out because it was slightly slower than Rijndael. No call was made to drag out the AES competition by Schneier or anyone else, because there was a general acceptance that DES was potentially vulnerable and not particularly fast.

Both DES and AES deal with the encryption of the complete content of an electronic message in a way that the encrypted data can be decrypted with the correct key. Hashing algorithms deal with message digests and cannot, ideally, be reversed without brute-forcing the function. Problems arise where two different inputs to the one-way function produce the same message digest, known as a cryptographic collision. These collisions can be used to fake digital certificates, and featured in the recent Flame cyber-espionage malware - a very rare real-world example of this kind of attack.

If NIST does announce a SHA-3 winning candidate - and after spending years whittling 64 initial candidates down to five, this does some likely - then it could do worse in selecting Schneier's Skein algorithm instead of its four rivals (BLAKE, Grøstl, JH, Keccak).

"Of course I want Skein to win, but that's out of personal pride, not for some objective reason," Schneier writes. "And while I like some more than others, I think any would be okay."

"Well, maybe there's one reason NIST should choose Skein. Skein isn't just a hash function, it's the large-block cipher Threefish and a mechanism to turn it into a hash function. I think the world actually needs a large-block cipher, and if NIST chooses Skein, we'll get one." ®


Other stories you might like

  • DORA explorers see pandemic boost in numbers of 'elite' DevOps performers

    Or is it that they're just more inclined to complete surveys about themselves?

    A report from DORA, that's the Devops Research and Assessment sponsored by Google and other DevOps vendors, says 26 per cent of surveyed technology workers consider themselves "elite performers."

    DORA was founded in 2015 by DevOps specialists Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim, and in late 2018 was absorbed by Google Cloud. Each year the gang, now led by Google's Dustin Smith, publishes an Accelerate State of DevOps report, co-sponsored by nine other DevOps outfits.

    The research is based on responses from "1,200 working professionals," we're told, with over half in organizations of 500 or more employees. The majority of respondents work in development, software engineering, DevOps, site reliability engineering, or management. Two out of five participants are said to have at least 16 years of IT experience.

    Continue reading
  • Senior IBMer hit with £290k demand from Big Blue in separate case as unfair dismissal claim rolls on

    High Court and Employment Tribunal cases to be heard soon

    A former IBM general manager who was posted to the United Arab Emirates is being sued by the company for £290,000 after filing an employment tribunal case claiming unfair dismissal.

    In its particulars of claim lodged on 10 February 2021 and recently made available by the court, Big Blue claimed that former Middle East GM Shamayun Miah should hand back two "special payments" because it sacked him within two years of paying him the cash lump sums.

    Miah was paid pre-tax sums of £175,000 on 1 January 2018 and a further £100,000 on 1 January 2019, according to IBM's High Court filing. IBM has claimed he is "liable" to repay a portion of each of payment, together totalling £145,750.

    Continue reading
  • If you're Intel, self-driving cars look an awful lot like PCs

    Hardware capabilities, latest feature updates? You'll get what you pay for

    Intel's vision of the computing architecture of autonomous vehicles is similar to that of PCs, with pricey models getting better hardware and the latest software, and cheaper self-driving cars getting the bare minimum.

    The segments of premium and mid-range cars will need extra compute and over-the-air update capabilities to enable increasing levels of autonomous driving, said Erez Dagan, executive vice president at Mobileye, Intel's self-driving car system division, speaking at the Evercore ISI Autotech & AI Forum this week.

    On the other hand, low-end vehicles will have basic equipment, sensors, and features as mandated or incentivized by regulations like the EU's General Safety Regulation, which focuses on improving driver safety.

    Continue reading
  • Researchers finger new APT group, FamousSparrow, for hotel attacks

    Espionage motive mooted in attacks which hit industry, government too

    Researchers at security specialist ESET claim to have found a shiny new advanced persistent threat (APT) group dubbed FamousSparrow - after discovering its custom backdoor, SparrowDoor, on hotels and government systems around the world.

    "FamousSparrow is currently the only user of a custom backdoor that we discovered in the investigation and called SparrowDoor," ESET researcher and co-author of the report Tahseen Bin Taj explained in a prepared statement. "The group also uses two custom versions of Mimikatz. The presence of any of these custom malicious tools could be used to connect incidents to FamousSparrow."

    The group can be traced back to 2019, the researchers claimed, though the attacks tracked in the report made use of the ProxyLogon vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange starting in March this year. Victims were spread around Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, Asia, and Africa - without a single one being discovered in the US, oddly.

    Continue reading
  • Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nah, it's just Windows suffering from a bit of vertigo

    Up above the streets and houses, XP's flying high

    Bork!Bork!Bork! Windows XP continues to hang in there – quite literally – as the operating system does what it does best some 90 metres above the London's River Thames.

    The screen, spotted by Register reader Andy Jones while safely ensconced within the confines of an Emirates Air Line gondola, appears to be in something of a boot loop. It looks to be endlessly resetting as the UK capital city's cable car attraction grinds itself along the kilometre or so between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks.

    Continue reading
  • How many Android containers can you fit on your VM?

    The Register speaks to Canonical about running the OS in the cloud

    Interview Developers targeting Android are spoiled for choice with their platforms.

    There are a variety of options available for running Android application development environments these days. Even Microsoft has promised that its upcoming Windows 11 will eventually be able to run the apps on the desktop and has long since supported the mobile OS via its Your Phone app, even while smothering its ailing Windows Phone with a cuddly Android pillow.

    For Canonical, however, Anbox remains a cloud product, according to Simon Fels, engineering manager and is therefore unlikely to feature in any desktop version of the company's Ubuntu distribution any time soon, although with September's announcement it will now cheerfully scale from the heights of the cloud down to a single Virtual Machine via the Appliance version.

    Continue reading
  • Infosys admits it still hasn't fully fixed Indian tax portal

    Deadline came and went, but over 750 'resources' are still hard at work

    Infosys has admitted it has missed the Indian government's deadline to fix the tax portal it built, but which has been a glitchy mess since its June 2021 launch.

    The portal was introduced to make filing taxes more efficient. It delivered the opposite – India's government was forced to extend filing deadlines amid user complaints that they found the portal impossible to use. The portal was even placed into "emergency maintenance" mode at one point, during which it was completely unavailable.

    Infosys was shamed by ministers and on August 22nd was given a September 15th deadline to fix the portal.

    Continue reading
  • Here's an idea: Verification for computer networks as well as chips and code

    What tools are available? What are the benefits? Let's find out

    Systems Approach In 1984, artificial intelligence was having a moment. There was enough optimism around it to inspire me to explore the role of AI in chip design for my undergraduate thesis, but there were also early signs that the optimism was unjustified.

    The term “AI winter” was coined the same year and came to pass a few years later. But it was my interest in AI that led me to Edinburgh University for my PhD, where my thesis advisor (who worked in the computer science department and took a dim view of the completely separate department of artificial intelligence) encouraged me to focus on the chip design side of my research rather than AI. That turned out to be good advice at least to the extent that I missed the bursting of the AI bubble of the 1980s.

    The outcome of all this was that I studied formal methods for hardware verification at a point in time where hardware description languages (HDLs) were just getting off the ground. These days, HDLs are a central part of chip design and formal verification of chip correctness has been used for about 20 years. I’m pretty sure my PhD had no impact on the industry – these changes were coming anyway.

    Continue reading
  • Imagine a fiber optic cable that can sense it's about to be dug up and send a warning

    Forget wiring cities with IoT devices – this could be how wide-scale sensing gets done

    Imagine an optic fiber that can sense the presence of a nearby jackhammer and warn its owner that it is in danger of being dug up, just in time to tell diggers not to sink another shaft. Next, imagine that an entire city's installed base of fiber could be turned into sensors that will make planners think twice before installing IoT devices.

    Next, stop imagining: the tech is real, already working, and was yesterday used to demonstrate the impact of an earthquake.

    As explained to The Register by Mark Englund, CEO of FiberSense, the company uses techniques derived from sonar to sense vibrations in fiber cables. FiberSense shoots lasers down the cables and observes the backscatter as the long strands of glass react to their environment.

    Continue reading
  • Unable to test every tourist and unable to turn them away, Greece used ML to pick visitors for COVID-19 checks

    Inside the software built to figure out groups of potentially infected, asymptomatic passengers

    Faced with limited resources in a pandemic, Greece turned to machine-learning software to decide which sorts of travelers to test for COVID-19 as they arrived in the country.

    The system in question used reinforcement learning, specifically multi-armed bandit algorithms, to identify which potentially infected, asymptomatic passengers were worth testing and putting into quarantine if necessary. It also was able to produce up-to-date statistics on infections for officials to analyze, such as early signs of the emergence of COVID-19 hot spots abroad, we're told.

    Nicknamed Eva, the software was put to use at all 40 of Greece's entry points from August 6 to November 1 last year. Incoming travelers were asked to fill out a questionnaire detailing the country and region they were coming from as well as their age and gender. Based on these characteristics, Eva selected whether they should be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. At its peak, Eva was apparently processing between roughly 30,000 and 55,000 forms a day, each form representing a household, and about 10 to 20 per cent of households were tested.

    Continue reading
  • Angry birds ground some Google Wing drones in Australia

    Between COVID and corvids, locked-down Aussies can't catch a break - or a coffee lowered from the treetops

    Some of Google parent company Alphabet's Wing delivery drones have been grounded by angry Australian birds.

    As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and filmed by residents of Canberra, ravens have attacked at least one of Wing's drones during a delivery run.

    Canberra, Australia's capital city, is currently in COVID-caused lockdown. It's also coming into spring – a time when local birds become a menace in the leafy city. Magpies are a particular hazard because they swoop passers-by who they deem to be threateningly close to their nests and the eggs they contain. Being swooped is very little fun – magpies dive in, often from a blind spot, snapping their sharp beaks, and can return two or three times on a single run. Swooping is intimidating for walkers, and downright dangerous for cyclists.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021