Please criticize the (homebrew?) mode described below; to point out a single major defect/uncertainty or the link to (the analysis of) an equivalent construction is quite enough. Assume the performance is ignored in favor of security.

This scheme looks like something that emerges from time to time. Here is yet another place where anyone may discover its description and quickly comprehend why it should not be applied, now or perhaps ever.

There is a system fabricated as part of a f.o.s.s. project, oriented towards a single user (or more precisely, any group of users with the same rights) who has the given file and places it on a publicly accessible storage in encrypted form (it's one of basic operations of the system). For the sake of simplicity, let's suppose the file name to be already a pseudo-random 256-bit string (that's another basic operation). The demands are:

  • no one but the user should be able to know the original content of the file and/or make plausible conclusions about it, — except for the time of its last modification (accurate within few hours), the size and derived information — for as much time as possible
  • the user should be able to detect any corruption/modification of encrypted form

The following notations are used:

  • FILE = (f1;f2;...) — the finite string of 8-bit bytes
  • KEY — the 32-byte string, known only to the user
  • SALT — the 32-byte string, known to the user, also may be known to everyone in the universe, although «random» for each new file
  • SHA256(m) — standard SHA-256 hash of the byte string/message m
  • H(m) = SHA256 (SHA256 (0512 || m)) — the SHA-256 modification described in subsection 5.4.2 of Cryptography Engineering (Ferguson, Schneier, Kohno, 2010) and supposed to counteract the length extension and partial-message collision problems. 0512 is 64 zero bytes, m is the actual message, A||B means the concatenation of A and B (bit)strings

The goal is to translate the FILE into the encrypted form EN-FILE and then decrypt it along with integrity verification. The encryption is done in this way:

  1. FILE is padded at the end, so its size becomes a multiple of 16, with identical bytes whose value L-B equals their non-zero number (1 to 16). The result is PD-FILE
  2. The control hash D-HASH (32-byte long) is calculated as the H(PD-FILE)
  3. D-HASH is appended to the end of PD-FILE, so it becomes CHPD-FILE
  4. CHPD-FILE is divided into 16-byte blocks, enumerated from 1 to n+2 (last two are D-HASH)
  5. (essential) Each block of number k is AES-256-encrypted with the block-key = H(KEY || SALT || k), where k is the 8-byte value of... itself. The result is EN-FILE

EN-FILE is placed on the storage. There it may become corrupted, may not; after some time it becomes EN-FILE'. Then it is taken back to the (appropriately isolated) user machine, and the decryption is done locally «in reverse order» (more items due to checks):

  1. The length of EN-FILE' is verified to be not less than 16+32=48 and a multiple of 16. If it isn't, the file is corrupted and the decryption halts. If it is,
  2. EN-FILE' is divided into 16-byte blocks, enumerated from 1 to n'+2
  3. Each block of number k is AES-256-decrypted with the block-key = H(KEY || SALT || k). The result is CHPD-FILE'. Its last two 16-byte blocks are the 32-byte AP-HASH'.
  4. Discarding AP-HASH', CHPD-FILE' turns into PD-FILE'
  5. The last byte of PD-FILE' is L-B', which should be a padding byte. If it doesn't belong to the range 1–16, the file is corrupted and the decryption halts. If it does,
  6. L-B' last bytes of PD-FILE' should be identical and equal to L-B'. If they aren't, the file is corrupted and the decryption halts. If they are,
  7. D-HASH' is calculated as the H(PD-FILE')
  8. If D-HASH' isn't equal to AP-HASH', the file is corrupted and the decryption halts. If it is,
  9. L-B' last bytes of PD-FILE' are discarded. What remains is recognized by the system as the original FILE

Note that the decryption may be done in two passes, the first pass being a check one, where nothing is written to local drive and each block (except for n', n'+1, n'+2) in memory is replaced by the next one as soon as it has been input to the hash.

Being implemented (C++), it works, actually — the files are encrypted and decrypted, manual ciphertext corruptions are detected. What's in question, obviously, is its security in adversarial environment.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe user595228's answer covers the main points. $\:$ Additionally, you're plugging in a home-brew construction for the PRF, rather than using something else. $\;\;\;\;$ $\endgroup$
    – user991
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ It's also very slow compared to standard modes. You have two hash function evaluations, key setup and one block cipher evaluation per block. Typically modes are considered slow if they require two block cipher calls per block of input. (Yeah, you are ignoring performance, but if you sacrifice performance you should have something to show for it.) $\endgroup$
    – otus
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 6:51

1 Answer 1


This scheme is vulnerable to a "truncation attack", which allows an attacker to forge new ciphertexts (EN-FILEs).

Here's how this works. Assume that the attacker controls a section of the plaintext and can predict (with reasonable probability) the plaintext prior to that section. In another words, a value $A \| B \| C$ is encrypted, where $A$ is predictable and $B$ is attacker-controlled. The attacker can choose some arbitrary value $X$, determine the padding string $P$ needed to pad $A \| X$, and compute $\operatorname{D-HASH} = H(A \| X \| P)$. The attacker submits $B = X \| P \| \operatorname{D-HASH}$, which will cause $A \| X \| P \| \operatorname{D-HASH} \| C$ to be encrypted.

Assume the attacker can now see and modify the resulting EN-FILE. The attacker knows the number of ciphertext blocks corresponding to $A \| X \| P \| \operatorname{D-HASH}$, which we will call $N$. The first $N$ blocks of EN-FILE is itself a valid EN-FILE: if these $N$ blocks were submitted to the decryption algorithm, they would be successfully decrypted as $A \| X$. This is a break of the scheme, since authenticated encryption must prevent ciphertext forgeries.

This scheme is also vulnerable to a padding oracle attack, since the padding is checked before D-HASH, which can allow an attacker to extract parts of (or information about) the plaintext.


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