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Practical realisation and elimination of an ECC-related software bug attack

Billy Brumley, Manuel Barbosa, Dan Page, Fre Vercauteren, Practical realisation and elimination of an ECC-related software bug attack. Topics in Cryptology (CT-RSA), pp. 171–186. February 2012. No electronic version available.


We analyse and exploit implementation features in OpenSSL version 0.9.8g which permit an attack against ECDH-based functionality. The attack, although more general, can recover the entire (static) private key from an associated SSL server via 633 adaptive queries when the NIST curve P-256 is used. One can view it as a software-oriented analogue of the bug attack concept due to Biham et al. and, consequently, as the first bug attack to be successfully applied against a real-world system. In addition to the attack and a posteriori countermeasures, we show that formal verification, while rarely used at present, is a viable means of detecting the features which the attack hinges on. Based on the security implications of the attack and the extra justification posed by the possibility of intentionally incorrect implementations in collaborative software development, we conclude that applying and extending the coverage of formal verification to augment existing test strategies for OpenSSL-like software should be deemed a worthwhile, long-term challenge.

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