Block cipher modes of operation

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In cryptography, a block cipher operates on blocks of fixed length, often 64 or 128 bits. To encrypt longer messages, several modes of operation may be used. The earliest modes described, such as ECB, OCB, OFB and CFB provide only confidentiality, and this does not ensure message integrity. Other modes have been designed which ensure both confidentiality and message integrity.

Contents

Electronic codebook (ECB)

The simplest of the encryption modes is the electronic codebook (ECB) mode, in which the message is split into blocks and each is encrypted separately. The disadvantage of this method is that identical plaintext blocks are encrypted to identical ciphertext blocks; it does not hide data patterns. Thus, in some senses it doesn't provide message confidentiality at all, and is not recommended for cryptographic protocols.

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Here's a striking example of the degree to which ECB can reveal patterns in the plaintext. A pixel-map version of the image on the left was encrypted with ECB mode to create the center image:

Image:Tux.jpg Missing image
Tux_ecb.jpg
Image:Tux_ecb.jpg

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Tux_secure.jpg
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Original Encrypted using ECB mode Encrypted securely

The image on the right is how the image might look encrypted with CBC, CTR or any of the other more secure modes -- indistinguishable from random noise. Note that the random appearance of the image on the right tells us very little about whether the image has been securely encrypted; many kinds of insecure encryption have been developed which would produce output just as random-looking.

ECB mode can also make protocols without integrity protection even more susceptible to replay attacks, since each block gets decrypted in exactly the same way. For example, the Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst online video game uses Blowfish in ECB mode. Before the key exchange system was cracked leading to even easier methods, cheaters repeated encrypted "monster killed" message packets, each an encrypted Blowfish block, to illegitimately gain experience points quickly.

Cipher-block chaining (CBC)

In the cipher-block chaining (CBC) mode, each block of plaintext is XORed with the previous ciphertext block before being encrypted. This way, each ciphertext block is dependent on all plaintext blocks up to that point.

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Cipher feedback (CFB) and output feedback (OFB)

The cipher feedback (CFB) and output feedback (OFB) modes make the block cipher into a stream cipher: they generate keystream blocks, which are then XORed with the plaintext blocks to get the ciphertext. Just as with other stream ciphers, flipping a bit in the ciphertext produces a flipped bit in the plaintext at the same location.

With cipher feedback a keystream block is computed by encrypting the previous ciphertext block.

<math>C_i = P_i \oplus E_K (C_{i-1})<math>

<math>C_{-1} = \ \mbox{IV}<math>

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Cfb_encryption.png
Image:cfb_encryption.png

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Output feedback generates the next keystream block by encrypting the previous keystream block:

<math>C_i = P_i \oplus O_i<math>

<math>O_i = \ E_K (O_{i-1})<math>

<math>O_{-1} = \ \mbox{IV}<math>

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Ofb_encryption.png
Image:ofb_encryption.png

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Ofb_decryption.png
Image:ofb_decryption.png

Counter (CTR)

Like OFB, counter mode turns a block cipher into a stream cipher. It generates the next keystream block by encrypting successive values of a "counter". The counter can be any simple function which produces a sequence which is guaranteed not to repeat for a long time, although an actual counter is the simplest and most popular. CTR mode has very similar characteristics to OFB, but also allows a random access property for decryption.

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Ctr_encryption.png
Image:Ctr_encryption.png

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Ctr_decryption.png
Image:Ctr_decryption.png

Integrity protection and error propagation

The block cipher modes of operation presented above provide no integrity protection. This means that an attacker who does not know the key may still be able to modify the data stream in ways useful to them. It is now generally well understood that wherever data is encrypted, it is nearly always essential to provide integrity protection for security. For secure operation, the IV and ciphertext generated by these modes should be authenticated with a secure MAC, which is checked before decryption.

Before these issues were well understood, it was common to discuss the "error propagation" properties of a mode of operation as a means of evaluating it. It would be observed, for example, that a one-block error in the transmitted ciphertext would result in a one-block error in the reconstructed plaintext for ECB mode encryption, while in CBC mode such an error would affect two blocks:

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Cbc_modification.png
Image:Cbc_modification.png

Some felt that such resilience was desirable in the face of random errors, while others argued that it increased the scope for attackers to modify the message to their own ends.

However, when proper integrity protection is used such an error will result (with high probability) in the entire message being rejected - if resistance to random error is desirable, error-correcting codes should be applied after encryption.

AEAD block cipher modes of operation such as IACBC, IAPM, OCB, EAX, and CWC mode directly provide both encryption and authentication.

Initialization vector (IV)

Main article: Initialization vector

All modes (except ECB) require an initialization vector, or IV - a sort of dummy block to kick off the process for the first real block, and also provide some randomisation for the process. There is no need for the IV to be secret, but it is important that it is never reused with the same key. For CBC and CFB, reusing an IV leaks some information. For OFB and CTR, reusing an IV completely destroys security. In addition, the IV used in CFB mode must be randomly generated and kept secret until the first block of plaintext is made available for encryption.

Padding

Main article: Padding

Because a block cipher works on units of a fixed size, but messages come in a variety of lengths, some modes (mainly CBC) require that the final block be padded before encryption. Several padding schemes exist. The simplest is simply to add null bytes to the plaintext to bring its length up to a multiple of the block size, but care must be taken that the original length of the plaintext can be recovered; this is so, for example, if the plaintext is a C style string which contains no null bytes except at the end. Slightly more complex is the original DES method, which is to add a single one bit, followed by enough zero bits to fill out the block; if the message ends on a block boundary, a whole padding block will be added. Most sophisticated are CBC-specific schemes such as ciphertext stealing or residual block termination, which do not cause any extra ciphertext expansion, but these schemes are relatively complex.

CFB, OFB and CTR modes do not require any special measures to handle messages whose lengths are not multiples of the block size since they all work by XORing the plaintext with the output of the block cipher,


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Algorithms: 3-Way | AES | Akelarre | Blowfish | Camellia | CAST-128 | CAST-256 | CMEA | DEAL | DES | DES-X | FEAL | FOX | FROG | G-DES | GOST | ICE | IDEA | Iraqi | KASUMI | KHAZAD | Khufu and Khafre | LOKI89/91 | LOKI97 | Lucifer | MacGuffin | Madryga | MAGENTA | MARS | MISTY1 | MMB | NewDES | RC2 | RC5 | RC6 | REDOC | Red Pike | S-1 | SAFER | SEED | Serpent | SHACAL | SHARK | Skipjack | Square | TEA | Triple DES | Twofish | XTEA
Design: Feistel network | Key schedule | Product cipher | S-box | SPN   Attacks: Brute force | Linear / Differential cryptanalysis | Mod n | XSL   Standardisation: AES process | CRYPTREC | NESSIE   Misc: Avalanche effect | Block size | IV | Key size | Modes of operation | Piling-up lemma | Weak key
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