decrypting data symmetrically doesn't reliably convey confidentiality property
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Typically, symmetric encryption will in a way authenticate the decrypted data: If data can be decrypted with a given passphrase, it must also have been encrypted with that passphrase. (derp. addendum: not true in the general case if oracle attacks are relevant, and mdc only provides integrity!!)

The flexible way in which GnuPG's cli interface works makes relying on properties unreliable: A call to gpg --decrypt might unexpectedly asymmetrically decrypt, or worse, ask for a passphrase for which decryption fails, and then output a bare literal data packet that comes next in the stream. There are probably other scenarios, but more generally the nested way in which data is handled makes it difficult to reason about this one way or another.

Valodim created this task.Jul 13 2017, 6:31 PM
werner closed this task as Invalid.Jul 13 2017, 6:38 PM
werner added a subscriber: werner.

OpenPGP does not authenticate encrypted data. To authenticate data a signature is required.
The MDC feature is what its name says - it detects modifications of the encrypted data but that's all.

Valodim added a comment.EditedJul 13 2017, 6:53 PM

Well, yes, it's not general authentication like AE provides, didn't think this through entirely. However, handing encrypted data to gnupg and then not being sure if it was actually decrypted with a passphrase makes even the confidentiality property questionable.

Valodim renamed this task from decrypting data symmetrically doesn't preserve authentication property to decrypting data symmetrically doesn't reliably convey confidentiality property.Jul 13 2017, 7:15 PM
Valodim updated the task description. (Show Details)
dkg reopened this task as Open.Jul 14 2017, 1:30 PM
dkg added a subscriber: dkg.

I'm re-opening this ticket because i think Valodim has clarified what he meant, which is different than what werner closed the ticket for.

The point is the following situation:

  • i pass a chunk of data that i think was symmetrically-encrypted with passphrase X to gpg --decrypt, and
  • i also supply gpg with passphrase X (e.g. --passphrase-fd --pinentry-mode loopback), and
  • gpg gives me cleartext data back

Now i want to know the answer to the following question: was the chunk of data actually symmetrically encrypted with that passphrase, or not? It would be convenient in some situations to know the answer to this. (e.g. where no public key is available for the person you're communicating with, but you do already have some channel upon which you can already establish a shared secret to be used for the passphrase)

justus added a subscriber: justus.Jul 14 2017, 2:21 PM

Can you provide samples that highlight the problem?

justus triaged this task as Low priority.Jul 14 2017, 3:36 PM
justus added a project: gnupg (gpg22).
werner edited projects, added Feature Request; removed Bug Report.Oct 26 2017, 5:09 PM

I would consider this feature request. Right now you can do this by providing an empty keyring.

dkg added a comment.Nov 12 2017, 9:05 PM

@justus asked for examples.

You have a contact with whom you have a low-bandwidth secure channel. Over that channel, they tell you a high-entropy secret, and say they're going to send you a file (via an insecure channel) that is symmetrically-encrypted with that secret.

You receive a file.

You go to decrypt it, but an adversary (who does not know the secret) has swapped it out for a literal data packet, armored and wrapped as a PGP MESSAGE.

You decrypt it using a tool that prompts you for your high-entropy secret and invokes GnuPG in the following way under the hood:

gpg --pinentry-mode=loopback --passphrase-fd=4  --decrypt

The output of that run is the cleartext of the adversary's message, and the only indication that it is not from the adversary is BEGIN_DECRYPTION and DECRYPTION_INFO on GnuPG's status-fd.

dkg added a comment.EditedNov 12 2017, 9:08 PM

@werner suggests using an ephemeral home directory. this is an important point.

If the user doesn't take that suggestion, then the adversary can even make status-fd emit a BEGIN_DECRYPTION and DECRYPTION_INFO by encrypting the message to the user's encryption-capable public key.

But even if the user takes that suggestion, it is likely to be surprising that the stated invocation of gpg can return data whose confidentiality wasn't at all protected by the offered symmetric passphrase.

dkg added a comment.Nov 12 2017, 9:13 PM

Here are two examples:

0 dkg@alice:/tmp/cdtemp.GIVDzD$ head -v real fake
==> real <==


==> fake <==

0 dkg@alice:/tmp/cdtemp.GIVDzD$

note the difference in status-fd:

0 dkg@alice:/tmp/cdtemp.GIVDzD$ gpg --status-fd 2 --pinentry-mode=loopback --passphrase-fd=4 4<<<abc123 --decrypt < fake
[GNUPG:] PLAINTEXT 75 1510517398 
0 dkg@alice:/tmp/cdtemp.GIVDzD$ gpg --status-fd 2 --pinentry-mode=loopback --passphrase-fd=4 4<<<abc123 --decrypt < real
gpg: AES256 encrypted data
gpg: encrypted with 1 passphrase
[GNUPG:] PLAINTEXT 62 1510516982 
this is the secret
0 dkg@alice:/tmp/cdtemp.GIVDzD$
dkg added a comment.EditedNov 12 2017, 9:14 PM

So, to protect against this attack, the client needs to do both of the following:

  • use an ephemeral home directory
  • verify that the status-fd output actually emits the expected states

The use case that @Valodim and @dkg are thinking of probably is using a setup-code that humans use to transfer from one device do another to decrypt a symmetrically encrypted setup-package, this issue is linked from:

Just from reading the issue I agree that it is surprising behaviour to get some plaintext back if you attempt a symmetric decryption.

Let me state it again: Using symmetric encryption for authentication is Bad Thing™.

To authenticate a message either use a MAC or a digital signature. The two keys for the MAC and the cipher may be derived from a master key.

From the autocrypt page:

The MUA should try decrypting the message with the supplied Setup Code. The Code serves both for decryption as  well as authenticating the message. [...]

That is a no-go! In this setup message a basic protocol design rule is not followed. Ferguson/Schneier "Practical Cryptography" has a lot of good design rules; I suggest to check the setup protocol against them.

dkg added a comment.May 29 2018, 11:31 PM

@werner, what protocol design rule do you think is not being followed specifically?

Authenticated Encryption is a standard primitive in modern cryptographic systems. If common OpenPGP implementations offered an AEAD scheme, i'm sure Autocrypt would make use of it. The closest that GnuPG offers is SEIPD (which pre-dates the standardization of AEAD), and that is what Autocrypt uses.

In the Autocrypt Setup Message case, there is no choice of trusted keys, so the high-entropy autocrypt setup code acts as an authentication mechanism. It's far from ideal, of course, but it's trying to make things work with existing cryptographic toolkits (like GnuPG). If you have another suggestion for this use case, I'm sure the autocrypt project would be happy to hear about it.