How to Abuse and Fix Authenticated Encryption Without Key Commitment
Authenticated encryption (AE) is used in a wide variety of applications, potentially in settings for which it was not originally designed. Recent research tries to understand what happens when AE is not used as prescribed by its designers. A question given relatively little attention is whether an AE scheme guarantees “key commitment’’: ciphertext should decrypt to a valid plaintext only under the key that was used to generate the ciphertext. As key commitment is not part of AE’s design goal, AE schemes in general do not satisfy it. Nevertheless, one would not expect this seemingly obscure property to have much impact on the security of actual products. In reality, however, products do rely on key commitment. We discuss three recent applications where missing key commitment is exploitable in practice. We provide proof-of-concept attacks via a tool that constructs AES-GCM ciphertext which can be decrypted to two plaintexts valid under a wide variety of file formats, such as PDF, Windows executables, and DICOM. Finally we discuss two solutions to add key commitment to AE schemes which have not been analyzed in the literature: one is a generic approach that adds an explicit key commitment scheme to the AE scheme, and the other is a simple fix which works for AE schemes like AES-GCM and ChaCha20Poly1305, but requires separate analysis for each scheme.