In Merkle–Damgård is there any reason why we use a fixed $IV$ at the beginning? Can we use the first block ($M_1$) right away instead of $IV$ and feed it through the compression function with $M_2$.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure you can just copy and paste "Merkle–Damgård" from the edits in the previous question, please do so. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Feb 15 '17 at 13:20

TL;DR: A simple reason why we use the IV is to mitigate second preimage attacks.

This is the typical Merkle–Damgård construction: you split your messages in blocs of $k$ bits (input size of the compression function).

    M1         M2 ...     Mn
    |          |          |
    +--|\      +--|\      +--|\
       | \        | \        | \
 IV ---|  |-------|  |-------|  |---  Hash
       +--+       +--+       +--+

your proposal is the following :

    M2         M3 ...     Mn
    |          |          |
    +--|\      +--|\      +--|\
       | \        | \        | \
 M1 ---|  |-------|  |-------|  |---  Hash
       +--+       +--+       +--+

This assumes that the message is longer than $k$ bits! What if the message is shorter ? Well you get the following because you don't have an IV to compress with.

 M1 ---  Hash

Also this idea of using $M_1$ as an $IV$ assumes that the inputs of your compression function have the same size e.g. if you take $f(x,y) \to h$ where:

  • $\texttt{sizeof}(x) = 128 \texttt{bits}$ and
  • $\texttt{sizeof}(h) = 160 \texttt{bits}$

This implies that $\texttt{sizeof}(y) = 160 \texttt{bits}$. Therefore the use of an IV is encouraged unless you want to manage a padding for the first input...

What if we have a fixed last bloc compression ?

Such that:

    M2         M3 ...     Mn ...     LB
    |          |          |          |
    +--|\      +--|\      +--|\      +--|\
       | \        | \        | \        | \
 M1 ---|  |-------|  |-------|  |-------|  |---  Hash
       +--+       +--+       +--+       +--+

And in the case of very short messages:

       | \
 M1 ---|  |---  Hash

In the end don't you agree that this is the same has having a fixed first block, also called an IV ? You still need to save this value. Whether it is at the end or at the beginning, it is needed.

A Second Pre-image attack

Quick reminder:

Given an input $m_1$ it should be difficult to find another input $m_2$ such that $m_1 \neq m_2$ and $hash(m_1)=hash(m_2)$. Functions that lack this property are vulnerable to second-preimage attacks.

Feeding directly $M_1$ instead of the IV whatever the construction above (with or without a fixed last block) leads to a second-preimage attack:

Let $M_1$ such that $M_1 = a || b || c || d$ where $||$ is the concatenation and $a,b,c,d$ are of the right size. We pose $H(a || b || c || d) = h$.

    b          c          d
    |          |          |
    +--|\      +--|\      +--|\
       | \        | \        | \
  a ---|  |---h'--|  |---h"--|  |---  h
       +--+       +--+       +--+

Notice that we have $h'$ and $h''$ such that $h = H(a||b)$ and $h'' = H(a||b||c)$.

What happen if we compute $H(h'||c||d)$ or $H(h''||d)$ ?

   c         d
   |         |
   +--|\     +--|\
      | \       | \
  h'--|  |------|  |---  h
      +--+      +--+

       | \
 h'' --|  |---  h

In both case you will get $h$ which leads to: $$\begin{align*} H(a || b || c || d) &= h\\ &= H(h' || c || d)\\ &= H(h''||d) \end{align*}$$

Thus we have a collision through a second preimage attack (note that the compression function may be perfectly secure!).

How to solve this?

Multiple solutions exists:

  1. Use an IV.
  2. Encode the length of the input in the last block.
  3. add a domain separation encoding at the end of each block.

Solutions has been discussed in the following paper (see section 8: Implications for sequential hashing).

  • $\begingroup$ So you are saying it is not collision resistant? can you give an example of an attack? because to my understanding it looks collision resistant $\endgroup$ – cryptoman Feb 15 '17 at 21:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cryptoman updated with the second preimage. $\endgroup$ – Biv Feb 16 '17 at 10:03

If we used this idea of performing $C(M_1,M_2)$ rather than $C(\text{IV},M_1)$ as the first compression step, then for some reasonable choice of the compression function $C$, there would be devastating attacks. That's including with explicit length of the input in the last block, contrary to the second-preimage attack in the other answer.

An example is when the compression function $C$ is an (assumed ideal) block cipher, with $C(S,M)=E_M(S)$ (that is, encryption of the hash state using a message block as key). For a message $M$ leading to a 2-block padded message $M_1\|M_2$, with the proposed shortcut, the hash is $h=H(M)=E_{M_1}(M_2)$ rather than the usual $h=H(M)=E_{M_2}(E_{M_1}(\text{IV}))$.

To reach any desired hash $h$, we chose any valid $M_2$ (the choice is constrained only by the length padding), and compute $M_1=E^{-1}_{M_2}(h)$ (that is, we decipher $h$ under key $M_2$). We then form $M$ from $M_1$ and $M_2$, and $H(M)=h$ holds. This first-preimage attack is trivially extended to second-preimage and collision.

Sure, common hashes tend to use $C(S,M)=E_M(S)\oplus S$ per the Davies-Meyer construction (or a small variation), and it it is unusual to directly use a block cipher as the compression function. But assuming we do, with the usual choice of IV (an arbitrary public random-like value clearly independent of the block cipher), we still get a reasonably secure construct (collision-resistance to usual levels can be proven with standard arguments; preimage resistance could be weaker than usual due to greater freedom in multi-collision attacks).

This example illustrates that the shortcut weakens our security insurance; and that making a security argument for the construction would require stronger hypothesis on $C$, or/and more complex reasoning.

Note: a comparatively minor difficulty with the proposed shortcut is that we'd need a special case for messages short enough to fit 1 block after length padding; like $h=H(M)=C(M_1,M_1)$.


Actually, the result will be collision resistant, Im afraid the answer that Biv gave is wrong since he didn't pad the message with the length

  • $\begingroup$ Reread the last part of my answer. I do mention the length encoding. $\endgroup$ – Biv Nov 26 '17 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ I read it twice when you wrote it, and now I read it again for fariness, Im sorry but what I said is still applied, the scheme that cryptoman suggested is collision resistant and Im afraid your answer is wrong. $\endgroup$ – Elad Yehezkel Nov 26 '17 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ the reason IV is used is to make the analysis more convenient, with or without IV, it doesn't matter, which means that if you do use IV, and not adding the length, the scheme would not be collision resistant $\endgroup$ – Elad Yehezkel Nov 26 '17 at 16:08

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