This package provides an equal function on string in constant-time to avoid timing-attack with crypto stuff.
Published: 25 Jul 2022
Eq(af) - Constant time equal function
This library implements various constant time algorithms, first and foremost the
Eqaf.equal equality testing function for
While the test suite has a number of external dependencies, the library itself does not have any dependencies besides the OCaml standard library. This should make
eqaf small, self-contained, and easy to integrate in your code.
The "constant time" provided by this library is constant in the sense that the time required to execute the functions does not depend on the values of the operands. The purpose is to help programmer shield their code from timing-based side-channel attacks where an adversary tries to measure execution time to learn about the contents of the operands. They are not necessarily "constant time" in the sense that each invocation takes exactly the same amount of microseconds.
Constant time implementations are beneficial in many different applications; cryptographic libraries like digestif, but also practial code that deal with sensitive information (like passwords) benefit from constant time execution in select situations. A practical example of where this matters is the Lucky Thirteen attack against the TLS protocol, where a short-circuiting comparison compromised the message encryption layer in many vulnerable implementations.
You can generate and view the documentation in a browser with:
dune build @doc
We found that we often had to duplicate the constant time
equal function, and to avoid replication of code and ensure maintainability of the implementation, we decided to provide a little package which implements the
equal function on
string. Since then, we have added a number of other useful constant time implementations:
compare_le: can be used to compare integers (or actual strings) of any size in either big-endian or little-endian representation. Regular string comparison (e.g.
String.compare) is usually short-circuiting, which results in an adversary being able to learn the contents of compared strings by timing repeated executions. If the lengths do not match, the semantics for
compare_befollow those of
String.compare (reverse str).
compare_le_with_lenare similar, but does a constant time comparison of the lengths of the two strings and the
~lenparameter. If the lengths do not match, an exception is thrown (which leaks the fact that the lengths did not match, but not the lengths or the contents of the input operands).
exists_uint8 : ?off -> f:(int -> bool) -> string -> bool: implements the equivalent of
string, but executing in constant time with respect to the contents of the string and
?off. The user provides a callback function that is given each byte as an integer, and is responsible for ensuring this function also operates in constant time.
find_uint8: similar to
exists_uint8, but implementing the functionality of
List.find: It returns the string index of the first match.
divmod: constant time division and modulo operations. The execution time of both operations in normal implementations are notoriously dependent on the operands. The
eqafimplementation uses an algorithm ported from
ascii_of_int32 : digits:int -> int32 -> string: Turns the
int32argument into a fixed-width (of length
= digits) left-padded string containing the decimal representation, ex:
ascii_of_int32 ~digits:4 123lis
"0123". Usually programming languages provide similar functionality (ex:
Int32.to_string), but are vulnerable to timing attacks since they rely on division. This implementation is similar, but uses
Eqaf.divmodto mitigate side channels.
uppercase_asciiimplement functionality equivalent to the identically named functions in
Stdlib.Stringmodule, but without introducing a timing side channel.
hex_of_string: constant-time hex encoding. Normally hex encoding is implemented with either a table lookup or processor branches, both of which introduce side channels for an adversary to learn about the contents of the string being encoded. That can be a problem if an adversary can repeatedly trigger encoding of sensitive values in your application and measure the response time.
string_of_hex: constant-time hex decoding. Inverse of
hex_of_string, but with support for decoding uppercase and lowercase letters alike.
This package, if
base-bigarray is available, will make this
equal function for them too (as
A number of low-level primitives used by
Eqaf are also exposed to enable you to construct your own constant time implementations:
zero_if_not_zero : int -> int:
(if n <> 0 then 0 else 1), or
!nin the C programming language.
one_if_not_zero : int -> int:
(if n <> 0 then 1 else 0), or
!!nin the C programming language.
bool_of_int : int -> bool, like
one_if_not_zerobut cast to
int_of_bool : bool -> int, inverse of
select_int : int -> int -> int -> int:
select_int choose_b a bis a constant time utility for branching, but always executing all the branches (to ensure constant time operation):
let select_int choose_b a b = if choose_b = 0 then a else b
select_a_if_in_range : ~low:int -> ~high:int -> n:int -> int -> int -> intSimilar to
select_int, but checking for inclusion in a range rather than testing for zero - a CT version of:
let select_a_if_in_range ~low ~high ~n a b = if low <= n && n <= high then a else b
To ensure correctness,
eqaf ships with a test suite to measure the functions and comparing results both to the
Stdlib implementations and to executions of the same function with similar length/size input. The goal is to try to spot implementation weaknesses that rely on the values of the function operands.
The check tool will first attempt to calculate how many executions are required to get statistically sound numbers (sorting out random jitter from external factors like other programs executing on the computer).
Then, using linear regression, we compare the results and verify that we did not spot differences: the regression coefficient should be close to
You can test
eqaf with this:
$ dune exec check/check.exe
Q How to update
eqaf is fragile where the most important assumption is times needed to compute
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
eqaf is slower than
String.compare, 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
Q Which attack
eqaf provide an equal function to avoid a timing attack. Most of equal or compare functions (like
String.compare) 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
The first value is the hash, the second is what we found just by an introspection of time needed by our
eqaf provides only equal function on
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
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
String.compare, we should have a big difference - and confirm expected behaviors.
Dev Dependencies (5)
Used by (13)