I have a use case of symmetric encryption with a single-use random key K known only by the sender and the receiver:

enter image description here

In my scheme, Bob is able to send beforehand a tiny amount of information to Alice. Alice must send her data through Eve, which is an untrusted network. V is the "address" of Bob (not secret): a single-use random value which means "please send the encrypted data to bucket V".

Bob has extremely limited bandwidth when first speaking to Alice. I'd like to achieve an important improvement: let Bob send only 1 value to Alice:

enter image description here

Alice and Bob would tacitly derive the same value V, from their shared secret K.

How can Alice and Bob compute an identical random-ish, non-secret value for V?

In the diagram, V = AES.encrypt(42, K) where 42 is a public constant, but I don't know if it is a good idea. Obviously, it is very important for me that Eve cannot guess the value of K, knowing N, V and 42.

My system currently uses AES and K has 83 bits of entropy.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Did you consider the Key Derivation Functions? $\endgroup$
    – kelalaka
    Jan 27 '19 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Hi kelalaka, indeed this helps. I thought KDF was only about stretching a password into a longer key. But actually the wikipedia page also mentions Cryptographic hash functions, which are (I think) exactly what I'm looking for. The crucial property for me is that it is a "one-way function, infeasible to invert". $\endgroup$
    – Deleplace
    Jan 27 '19 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ Any success with KDF1? Note that I've changed it to ANS X9.63 KDF, which is kind of the same as KDF2, which in itself is identical to KDF1 but with a different counter. See my changes and the comment below it. This comment will self destruct. $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Feb 14 '19 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MaartenBodewes I must admit that all I don't fully understand the KDF details in the response. However I have reasons to strongly agree with the punchline "use SHA-256" so I'll mark it accepted. $\endgroup$
    – Deleplace
    Feb 15 '19 at 12:47

To derive additional identity information from a key you can use a KBKDF - a key based key derivation function. One of the more modern ones is HKDF-expand which is based on HMAC. Any hash or HMAC based function is of course one way; adversaries should not be able to learn any information about the key, unless the key is too short or not random enough in the first place.

KBKDF's differ from password based key derivation functions or PBKDFs such as PBKDF2 in the sense that they do not require a work factor (or iteration count) and they may not use a salt either.

KBKDF's can often contain label or other $\text{Info}$ input parameter to distinguish between output keys, something that PBKDF's commonly do not feature. In this case the label may for instance be a single character "V" to indicate that you are indeed deriving a value for that particular field. This means that the derived key is specific to that input value, other keys derived using an other label will be entirely unrelated to the derived value for "V".

When specifying $\text{Info}$ it may be a good idea to also include some (statically sized) identity strings for the participants, so that the key for sending from Alice to Bob is different from the one used in the other direction.

Note that HKDF is still a relative heavyweight algorithm - if just because it uses HMAC instead of a hash. If the implementation size or speed is a concern then you could replace it with an extremely simple alternative such as ANS X9.63 KDF which consists of a hash over a statically sized key, a label/other info and a statically sized big endian counter of 4 bytes.

In formulas:

$$K_i = \text{H}(\text{IKM} \mathbin \| \text{I2OSP}(i, 4) \mathbin \| \text{Info})$$

and $\text{OKM}$ is the leftmost bytes of $K_1 \dots K_n$ with $n$ set high enough to get the required Output Keying Material, $\text{OKM}$.


  • The $K_i$ is a full block of output keying material, each block the size of the hash function $\text H$ being used;
  • $\text{H}$ is the hash function configured for the KDF, e.g. SHA-256;
  • $\text{IKM}$ is the Input Keying Material to the KDF ($K$ in your diagram);
  • The operator $\|$ means concatenation
  • $\text{I2OSP}$ converts a number to - in this case 4 - bytes, using unsigned big endian encoding;
  • $\text{Info}$ could be the ASCII string $\texttt{"V"}$ as explained above;
  • $\text{OKM}$ the output keying material which can be used to create a derived key

For AES the output keying material is the key, as AES simply consists of (pseudo) random bytes.

This creates a variable length output that is specific to the input keying material and the $\text{Info}$ octet string, which makes it possible to derive multiple keys for the same input keying material.

So with all that your key derivation scheme could be e.g. SHA-256(key | 00000001h | "V"). If you need more key information you can simply increase the counter to 00000002h (the point is never to use the same input for the hash of course) and concatenate the output of the result. If you need less than a full number of output blocks then you should simply use the leftmost bytes of the result. If you want to derive more information from a static key then simply introduce another counter.

KDF's are very flexible, often to the point that they are too flexible. this makes it near impossible to standardize on algorithm, so describe the one you are using well.

  • $\begingroup$ I've fixed the description of the KDF considering my own question about the definition of KDF1 and KDF2. I switched $\text{Info}$ and the counter $i$ around. Sorry for that; I'll apply for a job at NIST. $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Feb 14 '19 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ In my use case, K is already single-use and crypto-random. I'll simplify and use V=SHA-256(K), as after thinking about it any cryptographic hash function is fine for this job. $\endgroup$
    – Deleplace
    Feb 15 '19 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks again for writing such a detailed answer, this is greatly appreciated even if the contents exceeds my current skills. $\endgroup$
    – Deleplace
    Feb 15 '19 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ If you could use V=SHA-256(K | 00000001h) then you would be able to say that you are using KDF2 or ANS X9.63 KDF with an empty info string. So that's identical to updating the hash function with a byte array with bytes values 00, 00, 00 and 01 after the key has been processed. I tried to make it slightly easier still. $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Feb 15 '19 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ One liner for the math aficionados: $\text{OKM} = \text{X9_63KDF}_\text{H}(\text{IKM}, \text{Info}, l) = \text{leftbits}(l, \bigg \|_{i=1}^{\lceil l / \text{hLen} \rceil} \text{H}(\text{IKM} \mathbin \| \text{I2OSP}(i, 4) \mathbin \| \text{Info}))$ $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Feb 15 '19 at 13:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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