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Re: passwd hashing algorithm
From: watt () sware com (Charlie Watt)
Date: Thu, 20 Apr 1995 08:34:28 -0400 (EDT)


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X-Sensitivity-Label: 1,CMW+3.0/SCO_2.1/sware.com,UNCLASSIFIED
X-Information-Label: 1,CMW+3.0/SCO_2.1/sware.com,UNCLASSIFIED


SecureWare has modified
the behavior of password hashing not to increase the strength of the
underlying crypt(), but to increase the size of the possible password space
and the resulting hash value.  The algorithm breaks a password into crypt-
sized blocks, running crypt() across each block.  The salt for each block is
derived from the ciphertext of the previous block to provide linkage between
the individual blocks.  The resulting hash is the concatenation of the 
various ciphertext blocks, prefixed with the initial salt.

This sounds like it could have a real weakness.  Passwords that are longer
than 8 characters tend to be only a little longer - most of them will be
9-12 characters.  Few passwords will be 16 characters.  With this algorithm
it's easy to crack the last block, using the salt derived from the
2nd-to-last ciphertext by trying all 1-4 character strings.  Given the last
block of cleartext you can make some good guesses about the earlier blocks
(If the last block is cracked and turns out to be 'h', you can try
'elizabeth', if it's 'ia' you can try 'california' etc.).  My guess is a
9-12 character password would be weaker than an 8-character password under
this scheme unless you were careful to keep the first 8 characters totally
independent of the rest, putting a semantic boundary in the password.

How about a variation where each block of cleartext was xor'ed with all of
the previous blocks of cleartext before crypting?

This is an interesting point.  In practice there shouldn't be a hole, for
those sites that care about password management do not allow users to 
choose their own passwords.  

However, the end effect is not as strong as it could be.  Making an
attacker crack both an 8 byte random password and a second 1 - 8 byte random 
password is much better than current practice, but it is not nearly as 
difficult as cracking the corresponding 9 - 16 byte random password.

As you point out, a better cryptographic linkage between blocks would 
force the attacker to search the full password space for a given multiblock
password rather than break it down into separate 8 byte searches.  We will 
incoporate this into our next release.  Thanks for the feedback.  

Charles Watt
SecureWare, Inc.

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