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Let's say I need to verify a digital signature and the public key is stored in untrusted storage which I need to fetch before I verify the digital signature. However, I can store the cryptographic hash of the public key in trusted storage and I decide to use the hash to verify the integrity of the public key. Now say I am using RSA PKCS #1 1.5 signature scheme, the public key contains (n, e), i.e., modulus and public exponent.

Here is the questions: Can I compute the only hash of the modulus for integrity? Do I get any security advantage if I compute the hash of the modulus concatenate with the public exponent? Specifically, I wonder what could go wrong if the attacker can change the my public exponent? (Assume the signature is created with public exponent 65537)

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Can I compute the only hash of the modulus for integrity?

Well, if we allow the attacker to modify the value of $e$ you use (because it's in untrusted storage and you don't verify it), how can he exploit that? Well, the most obvious approach for him would be to modify $e$ to be the value 1; that would make generating forgeries really quite simple.

Now, if your signature verification software prohibits $e=1$ (and doesn't parse $e=-1$; likely it doesn't); well, it might be safe, as generating alternative values for $e$ where the attacker does know the $d$ value is equivalent to factoring, and there is no other known way to take $e$-th roots that's not equivalent to factoring. This is, of course, assuming that your PKCS #1 1.5 signature verification code does all the checks; if not, then (depending on which checks are skipped) it's known to be possible to generate a forgery that passes the partial checks with $e=3$.

On the other hand, why take the risk? It's easy enough to include $e$ in the hash, and that avoids the question entirely. Alternatively, you can just bolt in $e=65537$ in your verification code; in that case, the attacker can't change it.

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  • $\begingroup$ An excellent practical answer. $\endgroup$ – TonyK Dec 1 '15 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ How about the attacker sending chosen ciphertexts or plaintexts with varying values of $e$ (assuming a scenario where the attacker can force the cryptographic module to reload $e$ from the breached storage at will)? Could that reveal information that fixed-$e$ attacks wouldn't? $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 1 '15 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ @poncho, could you elaborate on the exploitation by changing e to 1-that? It does not seem downright obvious to me. $\endgroup$ – drdot Dec 1 '15 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @dannycrane: RSA signature verification of $S$ works by computing $V=S^e \bmod N$, and then running some checks on the resulting value $V$. The attacker knows what $V$ needs to look like for the signature to pass; if $e=1$, then he can just generate a signature $S$ that is precisely that $V$. $\endgroup$ – poncho Dec 1 '15 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ ok. You mean e = 1. I get it :) $\endgroup$ – drdot Dec 1 '15 at 22:22

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