mailing list archives
Stunnel: RSA timing attacks / key discovery
From: Brian Hatch <bri () ifokr org>
Date: Fri, 21 Mar 2003 12:28:42 -0800
Release Date: 2003-Mar-21
Versions: Stunnel 3.x x <= 22
Stunnel 4.x x <= 04
Problem type: Key discovery / Information Leakage
Exploit script: None publicly available
Discovery: D. Boneh, D. Brumley
Writeup: Brian Hatch <bri () stunnel org>
Summary: SSL sessions where RSA blinding is not in effect
are vulnerable to timing attacks which could
allow a cracker to discover your private RSA key.
Stunnel is an SSL wrapper able to act as an SSL client or server,
enabling non-SSL aware applications and servers to utilize SSL encryption.
Dan Boneh and David Brumley have successfully implemented an RSA
timing attack against OpenSSL-enabled SSL software, including
Stunnel. Their writeup is available at
If you use an RSA key for an SSL server, a determined cracker could
eventually determine your key. This could be used to impersonate
your server via a man-in-the-middle attack, or to decrypt all SSL
connections between client and server that can be sniffed/etc from
the cracker's location.
The timing attack works best under situations where there is little
or no network lag, such as over a localhost connection. If the
attacking host is more distant that network packets have a larger
range of turnaround times may make the attack less successful.
However a very slow CPU on the Stunnel server (which would process
the RSA number crunching more slowly) may counteract the network lag.
The number of connections an attacking host must make to discover
the key is rather large, enough that you may well notice the increase
in your CPU usage, number of available sockets, or volume of log
messages spewing through your system.
* Recompile OpenSSL using the patch they have supplied and then
* Apply the patch for Stunnel 3.x available at
or the patch for Stunnel 4.x available at
and recompile Stunnel.
I expect Stunnel 4.05 and 3.23 will be released which incorporate
these or similar patches.
For more information about Stunnel, consult the folowing pages:
http://stunnel.mirt.net/ # Official Stunnel home page
http://www.stunnel.org/ # Stunnel.org: FAQ/Distribution/Patches/Etc
The code to successfully perform an RSA timing attack against Stunnel
was created by David Brumley and Dan Boneh. Here is the original
email they sent to the Stunnel mailing list on 13-Mar-2003.
To: stunnel-users () mirt net
Date: 13 Mar 2003 16:09:17 -0800
From: David Brumley <dbrumley () stanford edu>
Subject: Timing attack against stunnel/OpenSSL
Dan Boneh and I have been researching timing attacks against software
crypto libraries. Timing attacks are usually used to attack weak
computing devices such as smartcards. We've successfully developed and
mounted timing attacks against software crypto libraries running on
general purpose PC's.
We found that we can recover an RSA secret from OpenSSL using anywhere
from only 300,000 to 1.4 million queries. We demonstrated our attack
was pratical by successfully launching an attack against Apache +
mod_SSL and stunnel on the local network. Our results show that timing
attacks are practical against widely-deploy servers running on the
While OpenSSL definitely does provide for blinding, mod_SSL doesn't
appear to use it. One reason is it appears difficult to enable blinding
from the SSL API.
This paper was submitted to Usenix security 03. The link to the paper
We notified CERT about a month ago re: this attack, so it's possible you
heard about this from them already.
flames > /dev/null. Feel free to write with any questions.
Brian Hatch Quantum Mechanics:
Systems and The dreams stuff
Security Engineer is made of.
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- Stunnel: RSA timing attacks / key discovery Brian Hatch (Mar 21)