International Association for Cryptologic Research

International Association
for Cryptologic Research

IACR News item: 18 September 2023

Théophile Wallez, Jonathan Protzenko, Karthikeyan Bhargavan
ePrint Report ePrint Report
Data formats used for cryptographic inputs have historically been the source of many attacks on cryptographic protocols, but their security guarantees remain poorly studied. One reason is that, due to their low-level nature, formats often fall outside of the security model. Another reason is that studying all of the uses of all of the formats within one protocol is too difficult to do by hand, and requires a comprehensive, automated framework.

We propose a new framework, “Comparse”, that specifically tackles the security analysis of data formats in cryptographic protocols. Comparse forces the protocol analyst to systematically think about data formats, formalize them precisely, and show that they enjoy strong enough properties to guarantee the security of the protocol.

Our methodology is developed in three steps. First, we introduce a high-level cryptographic API that lifts the traditional game-based cryptographic assumptions over bitstrings to work over high-level messages, using formats. This allows us to derive the conditions that secure formats must obey in order for their usage to be secure. Second, equipped with these security criteria, we implement a framework for specifying and verifying secure formats in the F* proof assistant. Our approach is based on format combinators, which enable compositional and modular proofs. In many cases, we relieve the user of having to write those combinators by hand, using compile-time term synthesis via Meta-F*. Finally, we show that our F* implementation can replace the symbolic notion of message formats previously implemented in the DY* protocol analysis framework. Our newer, bit-level precise accounting of formats closes the modeling gap, and allows DY* to reason about concrete messages and identify protocol flaws that it was previously oblivious to.

We evaluate Comparse over several classic and real-world protocols. Our largest case studies use Comparse to formalize and provide security proofs for the formats used in TLS 1.3, as well as upcoming protocols like MLS and Compact TLS 1.3 (cTLS), providing confidence and feedback in the design of these protocols.

Additional news items may be found on the IACR news page.