Re: [Cfrg] On "non-NIST"

Watson Ladd <watsonbladd@gmail.com> Sat, 28 February 2015 17:17 UTC

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Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2015 09:17:35 -0800
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From: Watson Ladd <watsonbladd@gmail.com>
To: Paul Hoffman <paul.hoffman@vpnc.org>
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Cc: "cfrg@irtf.org" <cfrg@irtf.org>, Peter Gutmann <pgut001@cs.auckland.ac.nz>
Subject: Re: [Cfrg] On "non-NIST"
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On Sat, Feb 28, 2015 at 7:41 AM, Paul Hoffman <paul.hoffman@vpnc.org> wrote:
> On Feb 28, 2015, at 12:59 AM, Peter Gutmann <pgut001@cs.auckland.ac.nz> wrote:
>>
>> Paul Hoffman <paul.hoffman@vpnc.org> writes:
>>
>>> The term "non-NIST" is predictive, and the crypto community kinda sucks at
>>> predictions. We have no idea what NIST will do in the future if a bunch of
>>> IETF WGs adopt specific elliptic curves that are not P256/P384.
>>
>> Why is NIST seen as the ultimate arbiter of what's appropriate though?
>
> Not "the", but "an". The reason is that NIST controls what can and cannot be given a FIPS-140 certification, and that certification is considered important both by companies who want to sell to the US Govt and companies that use their certification as a statement that "we did it right". If you make an HSM that uses an algorithm not allowed by NIST, you cannot get it certified in the CMVP regime. Thus, when NIST is slow to keep up with the best practices adopted by the community, it becomes a roadblock to deploying better crypto.

This is factually untrue: CMVP certified modules are permitted to
implement other algorithms: they just can't be in FIPS mode when those
are used. I also don't see how NIST approval or lack thereof slowed
down RC4 deployment or accelerated SHA1 replacing MD5.

The reality is lots of new designs are using Curve25519 and Ed25519.
That's because of factors like simple design of APIs, high
performance, and very good security. Standards body acceptance is not
a concern here. Just as the reality is that E-521 was picked by
Brazil, while the new GOST is still being worked on, and the upper
size limit is just a random number. But never mind reality: we've got
to expose "signs of strength". We need big numbers for marketing:
never mind attackers can't break authentication in the future, while
mobile devices already struggle to validate certificates. We need to
vote on endianness: nothing more needs to be said.

Is anyone surprised we've become a punchline?

Sincerely,
Watson Ladd

>
> This is why we hope that, when this RG finally moves on both the the curve and the signing algorithm, NIST adds those to its list of acceptable crypto for the FIPS 140 testing. If they don't, people can still deploy it, but deployment will be hampered.
>
> --Paul Hoffman
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