Re: [Cfrg] Curve selection revisited

Hannes Tschofenig <> Mon, 28 July 2014 17:58 UTC

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Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2014 19:58:11 +0200
From: Hannes Tschofenig <>
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Subject: Re: [Cfrg] Curve selection revisited
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Hi Mike, Hi Bob,

Saying that you need hardware acceleration because of performance, RAM
and ROM size supported by some boards running 8-bit microcontrollers is
a bit lying to ourselves. The hardware acceleration might in fact
involve a chip with 32-bit.

8-bit microcontrollers have been great for devices that are not
connected to the Internet. For example, many early Arduino boards have
used a 8-bit microcontroller and their RAM/ROM configuration does not
make the use of crypto feasible to any realistic extend.

Now, we are past that point and it turns out that you get a Bluetooth
Smart chip that happens to have (internally to the chip) an 80kb stack
just for the actual link layer. New Arduino boards also run on 32-bit
processors and so do most of the IoT gear that gets brought to market
these days.

Also, the cost of 32-bit microcontrollers is sufficiently low that it
makes no sense to focus development effort on a 8-bit microcontroller
anymore. Just think about the software development cost here as well
(and not only on the pure hardware cost). While the world is indeed cost
sensitive real product managers look beyond the pure hardware cost and
also take other factors into account. Of course, everything depends on
the volume.

32-bit processors can also be energy efficient as the widespread
deployment shows. It is also important to note that energy consumption
does not only depend on the processor - it is the result of the entire
system. So, just focusing on the processor makes it a bit difficult to
have a useful discussion about energy efficiency. Since the IETF does
not focus on products / entire systems  I fear it will be very difficult
to have a meaningful conversation about this topic.

Since we have these discussions regularly in ACE I am planning to
schedule a Webex conference call to have one of my co-worker (who works
on hardware many years already) to explain what the industry trends are.

Having said that I am happy to take the results that come out of this
group and let them run on ARM processors to see what the performance is.


PS: Regarding the ASN.1 format I am wondering whether the IEEE has done
some more detailed analysis of the over-the-wire and the software
implementation cost. This would be useful for us in the ACE working group.

On 07/28/2014 07:05 PM, Michael Hamburg wrote:
> You’re going to need a hardware accelerator for some of these small
> things.  Eg for v2v safety, the real ask has to be “fast and small
> and easy in hardware”.  The best solution to this is binary curves,
> though they are considered slightly edgy right now.
> But yeah, 8-bit processor performance is important too.
> Cheers, — Mike
> On Jul 28, 2014, at 7:58 AM, Robert Moskowitz
> <> wrote:
>> The whole world is NOT TLS.  For example I am working in IEEE 1609
>> which is Vehicle-to-vehicle safety communications and their need is
>> for signed data objects that are quickly generated and verified
>> (you have ~100ms from the braking event to all the cars being able
>> to act on that information).  I also work in IEEE 802.15.4 highly
>> constrained devices (some much smaller than what many IETF groups
>> accept as their lower limit).
>> 8 bit processors are the norm, and NO, Dr. Moore is NOT going to
>> change that.  Lower energy demand is much higher on the design plan
>> than faster processing.  Also whatever is done will be running on
>> fielded devices for the next 10 - 20 years.  Hardware acceleration
>> is acceptable, but that could make in-field corrections impossible.
>> Over-the-air firmware updates may also be impossible (802.15.4k is
>> 40kb/s) or only done in the dealership (yes!  another recall!).
>> So getting on to my thoughts of curve selection requirements for
>> the world of small:
>> 1) Low over-the-air demands.  Every BIT counts.  We have to live
>> with 32 bytes; but 64 bytes may be too much.  Oh, IEEE 1609.2 has
>> its own 'certificate' and signature format as even the standard
>> asn.1 is too wasteful of the very limited channel.  This applies
>> also in 802.15.4 where adding another MAC frame might mean that the
>> whole thing fails because now it is more likely that one frame got
>> lost.
>> 2) Easy/size of implementation.  There has been lots of chatter
>> here about how NIST p256 can be implemented wrongly.  Here it is of
>> greater concern, as it might require a physical swap-out to correct
>> an implementation error.  Manufacturers look at the cost of a
>> programmer to save 5K code cheaper than that extra 5K footprint.
>> So little code and easy to code.  This world is extremely price
>> sensitive.
>> 3) Performance on an 8 bit  processor.  Performance is measured in
>> time and energy.  In-vehicle devices tend to have a ready source of
>> electrons (except for tire gauges!), but some devices have limited
>> battery (your front door lock) or NO battery (MEMEs energy
>> harvesters on bridge stress sensors).  So low energy is as
>> important as quickly done.  Here 10% faster IS 10% faster; and it
>> could make a life-or-death difference. (In Positive Train Control,
>> the automatics MUST take over if the human can no longer respond in
>> time and bullet trains can take 7Km to stop safely)
>> 4) preserving ECDSA and ECDHE.  This is what is currently in use,
>> and in some cases written into regulations (urgh), so we have to
>> still keep them working.  But if something 'new' and provably good
>> makes a big difference in one of the previous needs I suspect there
>> will be an attentive audience.
>> I have tried to keep things general so as not too much to limit
>> choices.  I never claimed to be a crytographer or to have the math
>> skills to evaluate the various contenders.  Others working in this
>> area might have their own reading on the needs of constrained
>> devices/communications.
>> But please just don't solve this for TLS on octo-core 64-bit
>> systems.
>> On 07/25/2014 01:10 AM, Benjamin Black wrote:
>>> Inspired by some comments from other and in hopes of returning to
>>> a more productive debate rather than the pointed back and forth,
>>> of which I am absolutely guilty, I'm suggesting a few
>>> constraints. These are not priority ordered and none of them deal
>>> with the math, instead focusing on process and practice.
>>> 1) As we are discussing this in the context of TLS, the
>>> performance of various kx options must be evaluated for ECDHE as
>>> typically deployed. ECDH is neither common nor recommended in the
>>> TLS BCP draft. In addition, I hope there will be discussion of
>>> benchmarking methodology, with the understanding the ultimate
>>> choice is for the CFRG chairs.
>>> 2) Performance must be measured using "production-quality"
>>> implementations. By this I mean implementations which employ the
>>> sort of techniques/optimizations appropriate for large scale
>>> deployment. This is specifically intended to exclude discussion
>>> of how simple or fast an implementation _could_ be, in favor of
>>> what they actually are in practice. However, the goal is to
>>> select curves which strike the best balance between various
>>> requirements, not simply the fastest.
>>> 3) The timeframe for a decision constrains the scope of this
>>> process. If a decision is desired within a few months, then it is
>>> difficult to include options beyond new curves. If a decision can
>>> take a year, new algorithms could be considered. Given the
>>> importance, impact, and contentiousness of new algorithms, I
>>> believe it would be difficult to complete a thorough, careful
>>> algorithm and curve selection process in a short amount of time.
>>> 4) The precise set of security levels needed should be specified
>>> in advance (whether by TLS or CFRG) and curve recommendations
>>> delivered together for all levels. A stated goal is to use these
>>> curves in new drafts, and it minimizes work to specify all
>>> security levels for a proposal in the same draft. This is
>>> strictly a practical matter recognizing the chairs and area
>>> directors have limited bandwidth and implementors can get
>>> everything done in a single go.
>>> 5) Selections must efficiently support TLS 1.2. Adoption of new
>>> curves, and potentially new algorithms, can't be gated on
>>> completion and widespread deployment of TLS 1.3.
>>> 6) Drop-in replacement for the NIST curves is _not_ a requirement
>>> in this process.
>>> 7) I don't think the chairs are signing up for a full-on,
>>> NIST-style selection competition and we should aim to keep things
>>> are lightweight as possible while still achieving the required
>>> level of rigor. I hope they will address this point soon.
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