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Eq(af) - Constant time equal function

From some crypto libraries like digestif, it needed to have a constant time equal function to avoid timing attacks. To avoid replication of code and ensure maintainability of this kind of function, we decide to provide a little package which implements equal function on string.

This package, if cstruct or base-bigarray is available, will make this equal function for them too (as eqaf.cstruct and eqaf.bigarray).

Check tool

The main purpose of eqaf is to test the constant time execution of the equal function. About that, the distribution provide a check tool which will compute several times how many times we need to execute the equal function on different inputs and equal inputs.

Then, by a linear regression, we compare results and expect that we did not have any difference: the regression coefficient should be close to 0.0.

You can test eqaf with this:

$ dune exec check/check.exe

This tool does not have any dependencies to be sure that `eqaf** is self-contained.


Q How to update eqaf implementation?

A eqaf is fragile where the most important assumption is times needed to compute equal. So eqaf provides the check tool but results from it can be disturb by side-channel (like hypervisor). In a bare-metal environment, check strictly works and should return 0.

Q eqaf is slower than, it's possible to optimize it?

A The final goal of eqaf is to provide a safe equal function. Speed is clearly not what we want where we prefer to provide an implementation which does not leak informations like: where is the first byte which differs between a and b.

Q Which attack eqaf prevents?

A eqaf provide an equal function to avoid a timing attack. Most of equal or compare functions (like leave at the first byte which differs. A possible attack is to see how long we need to compare two values, like an user input and a password.

Logically, the longer this time is, the more user input is the password. So when we need to compare sensible values (like hashes), we should use something like eqaf. The distribution provides an example of this attack:

$ dune exec attack/attack.exe
Random: [|218;243;59;121;8;57;151;218;212;91;181;41;|].

The first value is the hash, the second is what we found just by an introspection of time needed by our equal function.

Q eqaf provides only equal function on string?

A The first implementation use string, then, we copy/paste the code with bigarray and provide it only if base-bigarray is available. Finally, we provide an equal function for cstruct only if this package is available.

So, it's not only about string but for some others data-structures.

Q Why we need to do a linear regression to check assumptions on eqaf?

A As we said, times are noisy by several side-computation (hypervisor, kernel, butterfly...). So, if we record two times how long we spend to compute equal, we will have 2 different values - close each others but different.

So we need to have a bunch of samples and do an analyze on them to get an approximation. From that, we do 2 analyzes:

  • get the approximation where we compare 2 same values
  • get the approximation where we compare 2 different values

From these results, we need to do an other analyze on these approximations to see if they are close each others or not. In the case of eqaf, it should be the case (and if it is, that means eqaf does not leak a time information according inputs). In the case of, we should have a big difference - and confirm expected behaviors.


Constant time equal function to avoid timing attacks in OCaml




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