There are plenty of articles all over the Internet talking about how most people are dangerously bad at crypto, and most people new to the field often fall victim to common pitfalls.

I'm new to crypto, but I've spent hours researching this and I cannot for the life of of me seem to come up with something that could be insecure about the following implementation (barring a bug in the operating system, the programming language, etc.)

What's insecure about this?

Use Case: Storing files in a cloud environment and preventing anyone who gets access to those files from viewing them. I do not care about people knowing how many files I have, or what their sizes are, etc. I only want to protect the contents.


  1. For each file, generate a random AES key and IV.
  2. Encrypt the file using AES-CTR, and rename the file to a randomly generated filename.
  3. Store the encrypted files in cloud environment.
  4. Store a plaintext file locally that has an index of filenames, keys, and IVs.

Now, as long as nobody ever gets a copy of my local plaintext file, can I assume that the data stored in the cloud is secure?

Example Code

require 'openssl'

# Do the following for each file...

infile = "...input filename..."
outfile = "~/Dropbox/randomly_generated_name"

cipher = OpenSSL::Cipher::AES.new(128, :CTR)
key = cipher.random_key
iv = cipher.random_iv

input = File.open(infile, 'rb')
output = File.open(outfile, 'wb')

while !input.eof? do
  chunk = input.read(100000)
  encrypted = cipher.update(chunk)


store_locally_only = {
  infile: infile,
  outfile: outfile,
  key: key,
  iv: iv

File.open('~/local_only/private.txt', 'a') do |f|

Now, clearly if my private.txt became compromised, this would give an attacker access to everything that was in my Dropbox. But, assuming that this file as appropriately kept private, can I assume that the data that is stored in Dropbox is secure?

To be clear, I don't mean this post to be an "audit" of my simple code above. Rather, I am trying to understand something fundamental about crypto here. A lot of people say that it is "dangerously hard" to implement crypto. But this implementation seems so simple, that I am unable to think of what would compromise the data.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What do you do when a file is updated? Also, there is no integrity protection, so in theory an attacker with access to the cloud can undetectably change the ciphertext. $\endgroup$
    – mikeazo
    Nov 28, 2016 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ If the key and IV are binary, I'm not sure what happens when you store them as JSON; if they are not base 64 encoded you may lose data... now and then... $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Nov 28, 2016 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ You are partially exempt from the "it is dangerously hard to implement crypto" criticism, because you do not actually implement encryption. You actually implement a thin wrapper to OpenSSL::Cipher::AES. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Nov 29, 2016 at 13:24

1 Answer 1


I think it is "dangerously hard" because there are things that might go wrong that you might be unaware of.

Below the list of things (not necessarily valid in your example) that might be the weak spot in the crypto:

  • is your random function random enough? If not it might be possible to predict the output
  • re-usage of things that should not be reused - keys, nounce etc.
  • timing attacks - does your code uses the same amount of time independently on where during the algorithm it fails or succeeds?
  • is there not side channel attack? - that can be used to determine the plaintext or part of the crypto

and the list is not complete.

I think in general the "bad at crypto" means that people are bad at implementing the algorithms and should not do it.

Use something that's there implemented by smarter people. If you do it can still be misused (cases with re-using things that should not be reused or using not-random enough random numbers) but at least the implementation should be better and resistant to some attacks.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.