Re: [jose] Secdir review of draft-ietf-jose-json-web-signature-31

Richard Barnes <> Mon, 22 September 2014 01:29 UTC

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Date: Sun, 21 Sep 2014 21:29:09 -0400
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From: Richard Barnes <>
To: John Bradley <>
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Cc: "" <>, secdir <>, Jim Schaad <>, Tero Kivinen <>, Michael Jones <>, IESG <>, "" <>, "" <>
Subject: Re: [jose] Secdir review of draft-ietf-jose-json-web-signature-31
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On Sun, Sep 21, 2014 at 8:47 PM, John Bradley <> wrote:

> I like the general direction.
> One question,  wouldn't the recipient of a PSS signature detect the
> substitution of SHA-284 with SHA-256 due to the different key length.

No, in both cases, the key is an RSA key.

> I was under the perhaps mistaken impression that the key lengths needed to
> be the same and just the alg different eg SHA3 and SHA2 keys of the same
> length.

I think you're probably thinking about HMAC.


If that is the case we probably have not defined any algs currently that
> may be subject to this.  That is not to say that we shouldn't warn people
> as new algs are defined.
> John B.
> On Sep 21, 2014, at 8:32 PM, Richard Barnes <> wrote:
> I think I may have erred by trying to write a treatise on which algorithms
> are vulnerable :)  Here's some updated text, trying to be more concise.
> Jim: Your points about SHA-256 vs. SHA-512/256 and SHA-256 vs. SHA-3 don't
> really apply, since JOSE hasn't defined algorithm identifiers for
> SHA-512/256 or SHA-3.
> """
> # Signature Algorithm Protection
> In some usages of JWS, there is a risk of algorithm substitution attacks,
> in which an attacker can use an existing signature value with a different
> signature algorithm to make it appear that a signer has signed something
> that he actually has not.  These attacks have been discussed in detail in
> the context of CMS {{RFC 6211}}.  The risk arises when all of the following
> are true:
> * Verifiers of a signature support multiple algorithms of different
> strengths
> * Given an existing signature, an attacker can find another payload that
> produces the same signature value with a weaker algorithm
> * In particular, the payload crafted by the attacker is valid in a given
> application-layer context
> For example, suppose a verifier is willing to accept both "PS256" and
> "PS384" as "alg" values, and a signer creates a signature using "PS256".
> If the attacker can craft a payload that results in the same signature with
> SHA-256 as the signature with SHA-384 of the legitimate payload, then the
> "PS256" signature over the bogus payload will be the same as the "PS384"
> signature over the legitimate payload.
> There are several ways for an application using JOSE to mitigate algorithm
> substitution attacks
> The simplest mitigation is to not accept signatures using vulnerable
> algorithms: Algorithm substitution attacks do not arise for all signature
> algorithms.  The only algorithms defined in JWA
> {{I-D.ietf-jose-json-web-algorithms}} that may be vulnerable to algorithm
> substitution attacks is RSA-PSS ("PS256", etc.).  An implementation that
> does not support RSA-PSS is not vulnerable to algorithm substitution
> attacks.  (Obviously, if other algorithms are added, then they may
> introduce new risks.)
> In addition, substitution attacks are only feasible if an attacker can
> compute pre-images for the weakest hash function accepted by the
> recipient.  All JOSE algorithms use SHA-2 hashes, for which there are no
> known pre-image attacks as of this writing.  Until there begin to be
> attacks against SHA-2 hashes, even a JOSE implementation that supports PSS
> is safe from substitution attacks.
> Without restricting algorithms, there are also mitigations at the JOSE and
> application layer: At the level of JOSE, an application could require that
> the "alg" parameter be carried in the protected header.  (This is the
> approach taken by RFC 6211.)  The application could also include a field
> reflecting the algorithm in the application payload, and require that it be
> matched with the "alg" parameter during verification. (This is the approach
> taken by PKIX {{RFC5280}}.)
> Of these mitigations, the only sure solution is the first, not to accept
> vulnerable algorithms.  Signing over the "alg" parameter (directly or
> indirectly) only makes the attacker's work more difficult, by requiring
> that the bogus payload also contain bogus information about the signing
> algorithm.  They do not prevent attack by a sufficiently powerful attacker.
> """