A lot of hash functions, including the SHA-2 family(but not the SHA-3 candidates and SHA256d) are vulnerable to length extension attacks. But when is this property a problem?

I guess certain naive MAC implementations might have issues. Are there also some situations where length-extensions cause problems for unkeyed hashes?


The archetypal situation where the length-extension property becomes problematic is when ones builds a Message Authentication Code from a hash function as $$\textrm{BadMAC}(K,M)=\textrm{Hash}(K||M)$$ where $K||M$ is the concatenation of the Key and the Message.

The length extension property then translates directly into the capability to forge a different message, starting as the original, for which computing the $\textrm{BadMAC}$ is trivial.

In practice, that could allow adding an appendix to a text protected by $\textrm{BadMAC}$ (after a short rash of garbage in most cases, but often it could be invisible when printed). Also, that could allow extending the size of a short signed message so that it creates a buffer overflow after its integrity is checked using $\textrm{BadMAC}$.

HMAC is secure against that; and then more.

Another (artificial) example could be when it is asked the hash of increasingly long messages (with precisely the wrong content) as a Proof-Of-Work: one user knowing the hash constituting the POW of a user could abuse that into another POW indicative of slightly more work.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Similar multi collision attacks apply to all narrow pipe hashes, since for them, finding a state collision isn't harder than finding an output collision. $\endgroup$ Jun 19 '15 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ Length-Extension can also be exploited to make for more impressive demonstrations of collision attacks as Thomas explained here. $\endgroup$
    – SEJPM
    Mar 9 '17 at 13:25

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