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Local side channel attack on static Diffie-Hellman with Montgomery curves

Title Local side channel attack on static Diffie-Hellman with Montgomery curves
CVE (none)
Date 7th of July, 2021
Affects All versions of Mbed TLS and Mbed Crypto
Impact A local attacker can extract the private key
Severity High
Credit Leila Batina, Lukas Chmielewski, Björn Haase, Niels Samwel and Peter Schwabe

Vulnerability

The Montgomery curves Curve25519 and Curve448, also known as x25519 and x448 when used for Diffie-Hellman, were designed to minimize the number of checks an implementation needs to do for secure use.

In particular, validity of the peer's public key needs not be checked, as long as the underlying multi-precision (bignum) arithmetic is constant-time. This is not the case in Mbed TLS, but validity checks were still skipped, so an attacker could exploit special inputs (low-order points) in order to cause variations in timing and memory access patterns that would in turn leak information about the private key.

Impact

An attacker with access to precise enough timing and memory access information (for example, able to execute arbitrary code and sharing a memory cache with the victim) can recover the private keys used in static Diffie-Hellman with x25519 and x448.

Resolution

Affected users will want to upgrade to Mbed TLS 3.0.0, 2.27.0 or 2.16.11 depending on the branch they're currently using.

Work-around

None.

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Jul 7, 2021

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