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4.3 Digital signatures

In this section we will provide some information about digital signatures, how they work, and give the rationale for disabling some of the algorithms used.

Digital signatures work by using somebody’s secret key to sign some arbitrary data. Then anybody else could use the public key of that person to verify the signature. Since the data may be arbitrary it is not suitable input to a cryptographic digital signature algorithm. For this reason and also for performance cryptographic hash algorithms are used to preprocess the input to the signature algorithm. This works as long as it is difficult enough to generate two different messages with the same hash algorithm output. In that case the same signature could be used as a proof for both messages. Nobody wants to sign an innocent message of donating 1 € to Greenpeace and find out that he donated 1.000.000 € to Bad Inc.

For a hash algorithm to be called cryptographic the following three requirements must hold:

  1. Preimage resistance. That means the algorithm must be one way and given the output of the hash function H(x), it is impossible to calculate x.
  2. 2nd preimage resistance. That means that given a pair x,y with y=H(x) it is impossible to calculate an x' such that y=H(x').
  3. Collision resistance. That means that it is impossible to calculate random x and x' such H(x')=H(x).

The last two requirements in the list are the most important in digital signatures. These protect against somebody who would like to generate two messages with the same hash output. When an algorithm is considered broken usually it means that the Collision resistance of the algorithm is less than brute force. Using the birthday paradox the brute force attack takes 2^{((hash size) / 2)} operations. Today colliding certificates using the MD5 hash algorithm have been generated as shown in [WEGER].

There has been cryptographic results for the SHA-1 hash algorithms as well, although they are not yet critical. Before 2004, MD5 had a presumed collision strength of 2^{64}, but it has been showed to have a collision strength well under 2^{50}. As of November 2005, it is believed that SHA-1’s collision strength is around 2^{63}. We consider this sufficiently hard so that we still support SHA-1. We anticipate that SHA-256/386/512 will be used in publicly-distributed certificates in the future. When 2^{63} can be considered too weak compared to the computer power available sometime in the future, SHA-1 will be disabled as well. The collision attacks on SHA-1 may also get better, given the new interest in tools for creating them.

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