Announcing NCC Group’s Cryptopals Guided Tour: Set 2

Hello and welcome to NCC Group’s Cryptopals guided tour! This post is the second in a series of eight installments (previously) covering the solutions to the Cryptopals Crypto Challenges.

For those who don’t know, Cryptopals is a series of eight sets of challenges covering common cryptographic constructs and common attacks on them. You can read more about Cryptopals at https://cryptopals.com/.

There’s a lot of practical knowledge wrapped up in these challenges, and working through them is an excellent way for programmers to learn more about cryptography – or for cryptographers to learn more about programming. We strongly encourage you to give them a try and to see how far you can get on your own.

These videos are here for you to check your work after completing a challenge, or to see how else you might’ve solved it – or for when you get stuck, can’t get yourself unstuck, and are looking for a nudge in the right direction. We strongly encourage you to try “learning by doing” before watching the videos. You’ll get more out of them that way!

Rather than just giving you a walkthrough that rushes you to the finish line, with this guided tour we’ve tried to encourage you to slow down and see the sights. That’s why, for set two, we’ve added a section to the start of each video where we discuss the problem in detail, with visual aids, before writing any code. The idea is that before putting a single line into the editor, we should know exactly what we’re trying to do, cryptographically speaking – so that we can focus on how we’re going to do it.

Each video comes with a timestamped index of content so you can skip around as desired. Many of the videos also contain lists of links for further reading.

Oh, and by the way: if you just want to see the finished solution code, you can find that here. The videos are also available as a playlist here.

Now, without further ado, here are the videos for Cryptopals Set 2. We hope you find them helpful, and we look forward to sharing the videos for the following challenge sets as soon as they’re ready.

Set 2, Challenge 9: Implement PKCS#7 padding

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/9

00:00 – Intro
00:35 – Examples
01:00 – Unpadding
01:37 – Padding errors
02:15 – Applying PKCS7
03:15 – Constant-time considerations
04:10 – How else could we pad a message?
06:53 – Is padding always needed?
08:05 – Hiding plaintext lengths
09:40 – Start of screencast
10:00 – Implementing pkcs7()
12:41 – Implementing strip_pkcs7()
16:30 – Testing the implementations
17:05 – Writing main block

Further reading:
https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc2898#section-6.1.1
https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc5652#section-6.3
https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1321#section-3.1
https://bearssl.org/constanttime.html#cbc-padding

Note: The discussion of SIV is intended to refer to GCM-SIV (RFC 8452, not to be confused with RFC 5297).

Set 2, Challenge 10: Implement CBC mode

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/10

00:00 – Intro
00:30 – Start of discussion
01:15 – Construction of CBC
02:00 – Alternate diagrams
02:30 – Motivation: IV
03:25 – Motivation: chaining step
04:08 – Detour: CTS
06:41 – Limitations of CBC
07:05 – Problem 1: performance
07:45 – Problem 2: impossible differentials
09:07 – Problem 3: IV reuse
10:19 – Start of screencast
11:00 – Implementing aes_cbc_dec()
14:30 – Writing main block
15:30 – Playing that funky music

Further reading:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_cipher_mode_of_operation
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciphertext_stealing
https://bearssl.org/speed.html#symmetric-encryption

Set 2, Challenge 11: An ECB/CBC detection oracle

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/11

00:00 – Intro
00:25 – Defining “oracle”
01:08 – Problem statement
02:00 – Comparison to challenge 8
02:22 – Solution strategy (high-level)
03:22 – Solution strategy (detailed)
04:00 – Checking our work
04:15 – What about IVs?
05:00 – Second solution
06:06 – Start of screencast
06:30 – Discussing get_encryption_oracle()
09:08 – Discussing detector()
10:15 – Discussing main block

Further reading:
https://www.dcc.fc.up.pt/~acm/turing-phd.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_cipher_mode_of_operation

Set 2, Challenge 12: Byte-at-a-time ECB decryption (Simple)

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/12

00:00 – Intro
00:40 – Determining block length
01:00 – Determining padding length
01:40 – Determining suffix length
02:03 – Detecting ECB mode
02:20 – Solution strategy (first block)
04:20 – What about the 17th byte?
04:55 – Solution strategy (full)
05:20 – Optimizing for oracle queries
06:02 – Revealing the message
06:52 – Start of screencast
07:17 – Discussing make_oracle()
08:05 – Discussing find_block_size_and_postfix_len()
09:40 – Shilling for Big Static Analysis
09:56 – Discussing detect_ecb()
10:15 – Discussing guess_byte()
11:35 – Discussing main block
12:40 – Explaining the transpose-and-flatten construct
15:45 – “Hollywood-style” decryption
16:55 – “Now this is how hacking is supposed to look”

Set 2, Challenge 13: ECB cut-and-paste

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/13

00:00 – Intro
00:25 – Discussing chosen-ciphertext attacks
01:06 – Token format
01:36 – Adding admin block
02:12 – Visualizing the attack
02:37 – Start of screencast
02:50 – Discussing profile_parse()
04:02 – Discussing profile_build()
04:32 – Discussing profile_for()
05:27 – Big detour: dictionary iteration order
07:21 – Discussing enc_profile() & dec_profile()
07:30 – Discussing do_evil()
08:23 – Discussing main block

Set 2, Challenge 14: Byte-at-a-time ECB decryption (Harder)

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/14

00:00 – Intro
00:48 – Comparison to challenge 11
01:25 – Finding the prefix length
02:50 – Deducing the oracle’s plaintext layout
04:05 – Start of screencast
04:25 – Implementing find_prefix_length()
07:55 – Implementing wrap_oracle()
11:00 – Refactoring challenge 12
13:30 – Retesting challenge 12
13:50 – Writing main block
15:50 – Troubleshooting
16:25 – Running the attack

Set 2, Challenge 15: PKCS#7 padding validation

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/15

00:00 – Intro
00:16 – Callback to challenge 9
00:48 – Reviewing strip_pkcs7()
01:30 – Copying in test vectors
03:08 – Refactoring
04:02 – Running the tests
04:10 – Discussing unpadding in context (BearSSL example)

Further reading:
https://bearssl.org/constanttime.html#cbc-padding
BearSSL code pointer

Set 2, Challenge 16: CBC bitflipping attacks

Challenge link: https://cryptopals.com/sets/2/challenges/16

00:00 – Intro
01:20 – Reviewing CBC mode
01:45 – Propagation of XOR differentials
02:22 – Problem statement
03:05 – Strategizing
04:03 – Solution strategy
04:39 – Dealing with junk bytes
05:43 – Start of screencast
06:47 – Too Much Crypto vs Not Enough Crypto
07:27 – Generating global parameters
08:12 – Writing wrap_userdata()
08:45 – Showing how to look up URL-escaping codes
09:30 – Writing check_for_admin()
10:45 – Writing make_admin()
13:20 – Writing main block
13:57 – Testing the script

Further reading:
https://eprint.iacr.org/2019/1492.pdf

Thank you!

Before wrapping up this post, I’d like to take a moment to thank Gerald Doussot and Javed Samuel for their exceptional patience, support, and trust as the scope and scale of this project expanded, and as its time-to-completion grew commensurately. I’d also like to thank all the rest of the NCC Cryptography Services team, particularly Marie-Sarah Lacharite and Giacomo Pope, for helping to review these videos, and for their supportive and constructive feedback.

The animations for these videos were generated with Manim using a custom plugin named cranim, which I will release here as soon as it is ready. In extending this library I have been glad to have such a solid foundation to build on, and I’d like to extend my gratitude to all its developers; they have done an extraordinary job and their work has saved me a lot of time and effort.

Finally, once again I’d like to thank the authors of the Cryptopals challenges. I’ve spent a lot of time with their work and I appreciate the effort they’ve put into it.