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In the Secure Remote Password Protocol, the verifier must be stored on the server. In the case of a server compromise, an attacker could obtain these verifiers. If nobody reused passwords, this wouldn't be a big deal (as the users' data is probably also compromised). However since people do reuse passwords it seems a good idea to make offline attacks against the password file difficult.

SRP is based off of a cryptographic hash H; part of the cost of an offline attack would be calculating H, so using an expensive hash for this step seems good. However, I am unsure of the suitability of tunably expensive hashing mechanisms (e.g. PBKDF2, bcrypt, scrypt) for this.

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I think the problem would be finding a collision-resistant key-derivation-function, since a $\hspace{1.2 in}$ collision would allow a fake server to test 2 passwords. $\:$ – Ricky Demer Aug 1 '12 at 2:49
@RickyDemer, turns out that's not a problem. First, collision-resistance is not a big issue for this particular application. Second, PBKDF2 is already adequately collision-resistant. – D.W. Aug 1 '12 at 5:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

RFC 2945 By Tom Wu the SRP inventor uses x = H(s, H(I, ":", p)) where I is the username demonstrating that can do anything you like to the stretch the password such as prefixing the username then hashing it. So stretching the user entered password before putting it into function using PBKDF2 would increase the time taken for a dictionary attack with no effect on the strength of the protocol e.g. x = H(s, PBKDF2(p))

(Edit Note the design document uses x = H(s, p) but the SRP-6a paper linked to from that page uses x = H(s, I, P) so both differ from the RFC.)

Swapping H for PBKDF2 throughout the protocol would slow down the server drastically. With an online dictionary attack you want the attacking client to run slow without it tying up server resources. This suggests only slowing down the x function whilst keeping a good hashing function like SHA256 or better throughout the rest of the protocol. Also as @otus points out in a comment with an offline attack on a captured verifier they don't need to run the full protocol only the steps to generate the verifier. Again this means that there is no benefit to slowing down the full protocol.

Changing the x function to only use the key stretching algorithm with x = PBKDF2(s, p) seems illogical. You have to use the H algorithm to run the rest of protocol using the fast H the server is running. The purpose of running the key stretching algorithm is to slow down the client so you may as well use both H and PBKDF2 by using the RFC function for x but stretching the raw password then passing into the RFC function giving x = H(s, H(I, ":", PBKDF2(p))).

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@otus thanks i have updated. – simbo1905 Oct 13 at 20:38
That's a good point that only the calculation of x need be slowed down to prevent an offline attack against a weak p given v, which is what I was concerned about. – Aidenn Oct 14 at 2:22
@Aidenn it's a good idea to AES encrypt the verifier in the database to protect offsite backups from an offline attack. – simbo1905 Oct 16 at 16:47
  1. There is no reason why you can't, i.e. why H() used for hashing passwords and for the rest of protocol should be the same.

  2. The only thing you pay for that is the speed. Password hash is only generated on the client while you usually want to spare server's CPU time, client's is less important.

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Yes, you can and use a slow hashing function when constructing the verifier. I would recommend using PBKDF2, as it is designed for this purpose.

In fact, Wikipedia says:

$v$ is the host's password verifier, $v = g^x$, $x = H(s,p)$. Using of functions like PBKDF2 instead of $H$ for password hashing is highly recommended.

Thus, you could use $x=\text{PBKDF2}(s,p)$. Alternatively, you could pre-hash the password with PBKDF2, then use the result as your $p$.

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Thanks, do you have a more reliable source than wikipedia for this? In any event prehashing with PBKDF2 is clearly okay, and will only allow a compromise of the account on the single site, not recovery of the cleartext password. – Aidenn Aug 1 '12 at 22:58
@Aidenn, sorry, no, I don't have any source for this, alas. Sorry about that. (It's a perfectly fair question. I wish I had a better citation or analysis for you!) – D.W. Aug 1 '12 at 23:35
Wikipedia is not a source. – Smit Johnth May 24 '13 at 3:23

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