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Posted Aug 17, 1999

Two academic attacks on the key schedules of block ciphers on the SAFER+ algorithm version with 256-bit keys, demonstrating a fundamental weakness in the SAFER+ key schedule design.

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SHA-256 | 3e62e304ea60518ef840caddd25a36bfb417d14c59e12582233a75a1ef9d50d1


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Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998 01:41:59 -0700 (MST)
From: mea culpa <jericho@dimensional.com>
To: InfoSec News <isn@repsec.com>
Subject: [ISN] Academic Attacks on SAFER+

Forwarded From: "Jay D. Dyson" <jdyson@techreports.jpl.nasa.gov>
Originally From: John Kelsey <kelsey@plnet.net>

I believe I have found two attacks on the SAFER+ version with 256-bit
keys. While these attacks aren't practical, they demonstrate a weakness
in the SAFER+ key schedule design, and may lead to more practical attacks
in the future.

The first attack is a modified meet-in-the-middle attack, requiring 2
known plaintexts and their corresponding ciphertexts, 2^{37} bytes of
memory, and work equivalent to about 2^{241} SAFER+ encryptions. I have
discussed this attack with Massey, and am fairly confident it really

The second attack is a related-key attack, requiring 256 chosen plaintexts
and their corresponding plaintexts encrypted under two related keys, and
work equivalent to about 2^{216} SAFER+ encryptions. This is a much newer
attack (about two days old), and I am less certain of it, but I believe it

I will be writing these attacks up for publication fairly soon, but I
wanted to announce them here to get the word out, and to see if anyone can
either improve on them or find problems with them.

Both attacks exploit two useful properties of SAFER+. First, I will
describe the two useful properties, then I will describe the two attacks
very briefly. The rest of this note assumes familiarity with SAFER+.

1.0. The Two Useful Properties of SAFER+

Consider SAFER+ with a 256-bit key. The key schedule is quite simple: We
extend the key by a parity byte, getting a 33 byte extended key. We then
use the 33 byte extended key to generate the entire sequence of subkeys.
Each subkey byte is determined by only one key byte. If you know a given
key byte, you know all the subkey bytes it determines; if you know a
subkey byte, you know the key byte from which it was derived.

SAFER+ rounds use 32 bytes of subkey each, in two blocks of 16 bytes. If
the key bytes are k[0..32], then we have

First Round:

Second Round:

Third Round:


This means that it takes quite a while in the encryption process for the
last couple key bytes to affect the encryption. SAFER+ with a 256 bit key
has 16 rounds and an output transformation. The output transformation
uses only sixteen key bytes.

Now, consider how many key bytes have affected the encryption at all after
each round: After the first round (round 0), 17 key bytes have been used.
After the second round, 19 key bytes have been used. After the third, 21.
Continuing, we can see that it takes 9 (out of 16) rounds before SAFER+
has used all 32 key bytes. This allows both of my attacks.

0 17
1 19
2 21
3 23
4 25
5 27
6 29
7 31
8 all

The other useful property is that we don't have to know all the key bytes
to be able to recognize an output from a round of SAFER+ as being correct.

Consider the situation where we know all but the last byte of the key of
some round, and we know its input block. Each SAFER+ round consists of the
keyed byte substitution layer, and the mixing layer. If we know k[0..14],
but not k[15..16], then we end up knowing all but two bytes of the input
into the mixing layer. The result is that we end up knowing *none* of the
bytes of the output. However, we still know relationships between the
bytes of the output. The matrix that describes the mixing layer makes it
easy to see how to combine the output bytes into values that are not
dependent on the unknown bytes of input.

Now, consider a situation where we know all but the last two key bytes for
round 0, and all but the first two key bytes for round 1. We can go
backward through the mixing layer of round 1 (it's unkeyed), and then go
back through the keyed byte substitution layer, learning all but two bytes
of the output from round 0. We then make use of the trick described
above. We will know relationships between the remaining known bytes of
output from round 0, regardless of the unknown key bytes.

2.0. The Meet-in-the-Middle Attack

The real insight that makes the low-memory attack work is that we can do
meet-in-the-middle with two rounds whose key material we don't know all
of. That is, we guess the keys for rounds 1-7 (numbering from one), which
gives us all but two of the bytes for round 8. That's 29 key bytes
guessed. We then compute some expressions in the output bytes of round 8
that don't rely on knowing the two unknown bytes of key, and that don't
rely on knowing the two bytes of round 8's output that will depend on the
two unknown key bytes when doing the guess on the other side. We guess the
keys for the output transformation (16 bytes), plus the keys for rounds
10-16. That means 30 bytes of key guessed, and it also gives us enough
information to get knowledge of all but two bytes of the output of round
8. We then compute those same expressions in those bytes.

The result is that we can do the meet-in-the-middle at the output from
round 8, despite not knowing all the key bytes used in round 8 or 9.

Round | Key Bytes Guessed
1 17
2 19
3 21
4 23
5 25
6 27
7 29

8 29 (two unknown key bytes)
- - -------------- (this is where the meet-in-the-middle happens)
9 30 (two unknown key bytes)

10 30
11 28
12 26
13 24
14 22
15 20
16 18
OX 16

That is, we can compute a set of bytes that are dependent only on the 29
bytes of key guessed from the top, or the 30 guessed from the bottom.

Now, this would seem to take up a lot of memory to do this
meet-in-the-middle attack. Fortunately, however, most of the key bytes
guessed from the top are also guessed from the bottom. We thus mount the
attack by first guessing all key values in common from the top and the
bottom. We then do the meet-in-the-middle by trying all possible 2^{24}
values from one side, and all possible 2^{32} values from the other. We
compute this intermediate value that doesn't need any other key material
>from both sides, store our results in a sorted list, and look for
duplicates from the top and bottom. With two plaintexts, it's easy to get
more than 32 bytes of intermediate values, meaning that we don't expect to
see any matches from incorrect guesses.

3.0. The Related-Key Attack

The related-key attack works on a similar principle.

My current attack is very simple: We choose a pair of keys, K,K^*, such
that the keys differ only in the first two bytes; in these two bytes, we
have a difference of 0x80. Under K we encrypt 256 plaintexts, P[i], each
identical except with a different leftmost byte. Under K^* we encrypt 256
plaintexts, P[i]^*, with some fixed difference D<>0x80 from P[i] in the
leftmost byte, and with fixed difference 0x80 in the next byte over.

With probability about 1/2, we get at least one pair of plaintexts
P[i],P[i]^*, whose values after two rounds are identical under the
different keys. When this happens, their values are also identical after
nine rounds. Now, we do our trick from the meet-in-the-middle attack,
again, and guess the last 26 bytes of relevant key material. This lets us
peel off the output transformation and the last five rounds, leaving us
with access to the output from the eleventh round. We can peel off the
PHT layer, since we know it and its inverse. We can then learn all but two
of the bytes input to the eleventh round.

We now know all but two bytes of the output from the tenth round, and we
know a pair of texts for which only the last two bytes of the input to the
tenth tound had changed. We can check to see if the values we've computed
as being the outputs from the tenth round are consistent with this
situation, and thus are consistent with this being a right pair.

We expect to have to check 256 different pairs of texts in this way, each
with work equivalent to 2^{208} SAFER+ encryptions. This leaves us with
work equivalent to about 2^{216} encryptions, total, to learn 208/256 of
the SAFER+ key bits. The remaining 48 bits can be brute-forced after
these are known.

We thus break SAFER+ with a differential related-key attack, using 2
related keys, 512 plaintexts encrypted under each key, and 2^{216} work.


- - --John Kelsey, kelsey@counterpane.com / kelsey@plnet.net
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