Re: [TLS] Use-case for non-AEAD ciphers in network monitoring

Florian Wilkens <> Wed, 26 May 2021 08:49 UTC

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From: Florian Wilkens <>
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Date: Wed, 26 May 2021 10:48:56 +0200
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Subject: Re: [TLS] Use-case for non-AEAD ciphers in network monitoring
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Dear all,

first, we want to thank you for your feedback, it is much appreciated!
We wanted to briefly clarify some details about our idea:

- AEAD/non-AEAD: completely true. We were mainly looking at ciphers from
TLS 1.3 that all use keys and IVs but that is of course unrelated to
AEAD as a concept.
- registering our own ciphersuite: while that is certainly an option, we
are not really advocating for new cipher suites but rather keeping at
least a single cipher suite in the standard that allows for separate
keys for confidentiality and integrity.

We also tried to catch up on the discussions in 2016/2017 around
industry concerns to TLS 1.3 (regarding PFS and static key exchanges).
While some parts are certainly similar, we think our approach is
different, as we do not aim to weaken the overall connection security
but rather keep the client machine in control of the key material (as it
is already with current TLS).

To be clear, our prototype already works on current TLS as is. The
client sends either the pre-master-secret or derived session keys to the
network monitor. Naturally, this will continue to work with future TLS
versions as the client ultimately possesses all required key material.
There are certainly scenarios in which an enterprise might still want to
deploy an MitM proxy at the network edge to retain more control, however
our approach is able to avoid the disadvantages induced by these
proxies. In fact multiple commercial offerings (including one proposed
on the linked NIST workshop) already do exactly what we propose and hand
over all key material to a central party for decryption. Whether this is
good practice, is a discussion for another time, but it is already
happening anyway and there is demand for these solutions.

Our prototype is able to slightly decrease the attack surface on the
network monitor, as it is not able to forge valid packets in the same
connection due to the missing integrity key. The impact on application
protocols such as HTTP is a problem, however this problem is also
present on both commercial solutions that exfiltrate all key material
from the client and MitM proxies.

Overall, we just wanted to raise some awareness for the use case as we
felt that a small change to a future TLS standard could achieve some
slight improvements regarding the network monitor. However, if that does
not match the WG's opinion that is certainly okay, as we can work with
current TLS.

So again thank you for you feedback!

On 17.05.21 18:23, Florian Wilkens wrote:
> Hey folks,
> we came across a novel use-case that highlights the need for non-AEAD
> ciphers in TLS and would like to start a discussion on that.
> Our use-case is passive TLS decryption on network monitors (NMs).
> Non-AEAD ciphers would allow  to selectively forward the TLS write keys
> from clients to a NM that can then passively decrypt TLS sessions,
> without touching their integrity (as the write MAC keys remain on the
> host). This would be a major improvement compared to the usage of MitM
> proxies as current state of the art. MitM proxies terminate all TLS
> connections and establish own connections. Thus, a compromised MitM
> proxy cannot only decrypt all packets, but also change packet contents.
> We propose an approach for passive TLS decryption [1] in which
> cooperating hosts selectively forward TLS keys to the NM that then
> decrypts TLS sessions. The approach is (i) completely passive and thus
> does not interfere with the overall connection security and (ii) is able
> to selectively decrypt certain TLS connections with the hosts retaining
> full authority over the key material. While a MitM proxy can also claim
> to selectively decrypt traffic, we can guarantee this by keeping key
> material for selected connections on the client. Furthermore, for
> non-AEAD ciphers only the write keys, but not the write MAC keys, are
> forwarded, so that the NM can inspect but not modify TLS packets.
> Our prototype is built for the Zeek network monitor [2] and is currently
> in the process of being upstreamed with explicit interest from the
> maintainers [3]. Once merged, this will be the first open-source
> solution for passive TLS decryption on both client host (for which we
> built a small prototype) and network monitor (Zeek).
> We understand that AEAD ciphers offer many advantages and we understand
> the decision to limit the set of available ciphers to secure choices
> only. However, we think the use-case of passive TLS decryption is highly
> relevant especially for enterprise settings. In such settings, mainly
> MitM proxies are used that are a security problem on their own.
> We look forward to your feedback.
> Best,
> Florian
> [1]
> [2]
> [3]
> _______________________________________________
> TLS mailing list

M.Sc. Florian Wilkens
Research Associate
Phone: +49 40 42883 2353

IT-Sicherheit und Sicherheitsmanagement (ISS)
Universität Hamburg
Fachbereich Informatik
Vogt-Kölln-Straße 30
22527 Hamburg