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In reference to this question, what are the "stronger security properties" that HMAC provides over MAC. I got that MAC requires an IV whereas HMAC doesn't. I also understood that MAC may reveal information about plaintext in contrast to HMAC. Is my understanding right?

What are other security properties of MAC and HMAC?

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2 Answers 2

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A Message Authentication Code (MAC) is a string of bits that is sent alongside a message. The MAC depends on the message itself and a secret key. No one should be able to compute a MAC without knowing the key. This allows two people who share a secret key to send messages to each without fear that someone else will tamper with the messages. (At least, if someone does tamper with a message, this can be detected by checking to see if the MAC is right.)

The term "MAC" can refer to the string of bits (also called a "tag") or to the algorithm used to generate the tag.

HMAC is a specific MAC algorithm, just like QuickSort is a specific sorting algorithm.

Some MAC algorithms use IVs. Others, such as HMAC, do not.

MAC algorithms should have the security property of being unforgeable under chosen-message attacks. Let's say that Alice and Bob share a secret MAC key (which they use when sending messages to each other), and that Eve is spying on them and sees both their messages and the corresponding tags. Eve should not be able to use what she learns to fake valid tags. This should even be true if Eve can convince Bob to send specific messages.

For example, pretend Eve tells Bob to send the message:

Dear Alice,

Eve said "hi."

Love, Bob

and then Eve sees the corresponding tag. Eve should still be unable to "fake" the tag for the message:

Dear Alice,

Please give Eve $100 for me. I'll pay you back.

Love, Bob

In addition to being unforgeable under chosen-message attacks (UF-CMA), HMAC has the stronger property of being a pseudo-random function (PRF). This means that if Eve doesn't know the key, then all of Bob's HMAC tags look like completely random strings of bits, even if Eve knows or even chooses what messages Bob sends. This is a stronger property because every PRF is UF-CMA (you can't guess a big random number), but not every UF-CMA MAC algorithm is a PRF (it's possible that for some MAC algorithm, all the tags begin with 10 zeroes --- not very random-looking at all, but the other bits could still be hard to guess without knowing the key).

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Actually, HMAC is not a single algorithm, but a scheme to construct a MAC (algorithm) from a hash function. So for each hash function we get a corresponding HMAC function. –  Paŭlo Ebermann Mar 4 '13 at 21:00

A MAC is a general term describing message authentication code. That is a tag that will verify the integrity of your data. You will be able to say whether or not an attacker hash tampered with the data that you receive. One construction is HMAC and it uses a hash function as a basic building block. There is another way which is CBC-MAC and its improved version CMAC and is cased on block ciphers.

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