I am programming an embedded chip that has a hardware 16-bit CRC module. I have to protect some data bytes $d_0,d_1,...,d_{n-1}$ against corruption caused by sudden loss of power; a 32-bit CRC would provide the level of protection that I need, but the chip doesn't have that capability.

Unfortunately the CRC module uses a hard-coded polynomial that can't be changed. And I need the computation to be as fast as possible. Perhaps a table-based CRC algorithm would be fast enough, but the table would occupy 1 kilobyte of ROM, which I want to avoid if I can.

So my question is this: Can I somehow use this hardware CRC-16 module to reach the level of security that I need?

My current idea is to compute $CRC_{\mathrm{forward}}$, the CRC-16 of the data bytes $d_0,d_1,...,d_{n-1}$, and $CRC_{\mathrm{backward}}$, the CRC-16 of the data bytes $d_{n-1},d_{n-2},...,d_0$, and simply concatenate these two 16-bit CRCs to create a 32-bit EDC. Is this sufficient? Or are these two CRCs in some sense dependent?

More precisely: Suppose $D$ is the data, and $E$ is a corrupted version with $E \ne D$. Then I want the probability that $CRC_{\mathrm{forward}}(E) = CRC_{\mathrm{forward}}(D)$ to be independent of the probability that $CRC_{\mathrm{backward}}(E) = CRC_{\mathrm{backward}}(D)$. Is this the case here, or have I missed something?

Edited to add: If the discrepancy $E \oplus D$ is palindromic, and $CRC_{\mathrm{forward}}(E) = CRC_{\mathrm{forward}}(D)$, then $CRC_{\mathrm{backward}}(E) = CRC_{\mathrm{backward}}(D)$. So this idea doesn't work. Does anybody have a better idea?

  • $\begingroup$ In general CRC's have been designed to detect a certain amount of bits being changed. It would be tricky to get the same level using CRC's that are half the size. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Jan 25 '15 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about cryptography. (Questions about non-cryptographic checksums are off-topic; this site is for situations where there is an adversary, not about generic error detection mechanisms for non-adversarial situations.) See our help page for details of what is on-topic. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Jan 30 '15 at 5:54

CRCs are based on irreducible polynomials, and the choice of polynomial is driven by the type of error to detect (e.g. CRC 32 for ethernet is "good" for single bits and double bits errors and a few more types of errors typical of noisy transmissions). As a general rules, all CRCs are good to detect single bits up to a certain volume of data (around 11 Kbit for ethernet CRC 32).

CRCs can be seen has a modulus operation applied on a large number made from your data d0, d1 ... dn . If you are afraid about collisions (i.e. same modulus from different data sets). There are residues you can guess, like your palindromic case, and it makes you feeling bad. But you should not be worrying, because regardless of the choices you do, you always get the same amount of residue collisions, but because you can't guess them easily you get the false impression of increased security level.

Polynomial CRCs are the most fair of all the hashing methods when applied to random data.

When using your crc twice, you could shift the data, it will only shift the crc value. you could rotate the input data, it will rotate the crc values. you could mask the input data by xor'ing a constant, it will only xor the crc with a constant. You can also mirror the data, this will mirror the residue. if there are errors that cancel with the first crc calculation, they are likely to cancel with the 2nd crc calculation.

This is a crypto forum, maybe you could use your input data as key of a feistel cipher and use fixed constants as input data e.g. see the picture in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feistel_cipher , map your values d0,d1 .. dn to K0, K1, Kn, and chose 2 constants as L0 and R0, and add 3 terminal rounds. Your output value LN and Rn are the hash of your data. If it is crypto-quality, then it must be good for hashing.

But in all cases, you map N input bits into C output bits, the risk of collision is unchanged. The only thing you can hope is single bit errors to have a better diffusion inside the output bits.

Now you might expect a certain type of modified data after a loss of power, or your data not being "random", like plenty zeroed bits. In that case, you could consider a second different simple algorithm. Bit parity ? simple byte sums ? One of the simplest is adler32. It is notoriously "bad" for incremented changes (which are hopefully covered by a polynomial CRC), but is "good" against zeroed small data. It all depends of the type of data you want to protect (e.g. counters with small values) and the type of error you want to detect (reset to 0xaa55 after power loss).


I'll assume $n$ is a multiple of 4. One option is to compute the CRC16 of the bytes $d_{4j},d_{4j+1}$ ($0\le j<n/4$), giving 2 bytes appended as $d_{n},d_{n+1}$; and the CRC16 of the bytes $d_{4j+2},d_{4j+3}$, giving 2 bytes appended as $d_{n+2},d_{n+3}$.


  • reduces the work compared to the original solution, because each byte is processed once instead of twice;
  • has a desirable property of CRC32: if all bits in error are within the same 32-bit segment of data+CRC (including within the same 32-bit word), then the error is detected [note: the capability to always detect short error bursts lying across data and CRC requires care in the finalization of the CRC];
  • detects a large number of random errors with odds comparable to a 32-bit CRC, including all errors affecting an odd number of bits.

One very negative aspect compared to a 32-bit CRC is that errors which, for hardware reasons, are bound to always affect the same single bit of a 32-bit word (or some wider multiple) are not detected far more often ($2^{-16}$) than for a 32-bit CRC ($2^{-32}$).

Therefore, that solution is fine to detect communication errors on a serial link, but poor to detect corruption of a Flash or DRAM memory (assuming there is no built-in ECC) as occurring from a defective sense amplifier, and I guess a marginal write.

In the context of detecting corruption in memory (without ECC), I would consider

  • computing a CRC16 of the whole data;
  • simultaneously counting the number of 0 bits in the data (which will fit 16 bits if $n<2^{13}$);
  • storing the concatenation of that along the data.

Integrity check using the count of 0 bits has the property (desirable in the context of storage in computer memory without ECC) that if an error changes all bits in error to the same value, then it is always detected (that includes errors in the count). Also, it is fast to compute even on CPUs without hardware popcount, using a small table or various bit tricks.


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