Red Hat Blog
This article was originally published on the Red Hat Customer Portal. The information may no longer be current.
What is being disclosed today?
Back in 1996, Arjen Lenstra described an attack against an optimization (called the Chinese Remainder Theorem optimization, or RSA-CRT for short). If a fault happened during the computation of a signature (using the RSA-CRT optimization), an attacker might be able to recover the private key from the signature (an “RSA-CRT key leak”). At the time, use of cryptography on the Internet was uncommon, and even ten years later, most TLS (or HTTPS) connections were immune to this problem by design because they did not use RSA signatures. This changed gradually, when forward secrecy for TLS was recommended and introduced by many web sites.
We evaluated the source code of several free software TLS implementations to see if they implement hardening against this particular side-channel attack, and discovered that it is missing in some of these implementations. In addition, we used a TLS crawler to perform TLS handshakes with servers on the Internet, and collected evidence that this kind of hardening is still needed, and missing in some of the server implementations: We saw several RSA-CRT key leaks, where we should not have observed any at all.
The technical report, “Factoring RSA Keys With TLS Perfect Forward Secrecy”, is available in PDF format.
What is the impact of this vulnerability?
An observer of the private key leak can use this information to cryptographically impersonate the server, after redirecting network traffic, conducting a man-in-the-middle attack. Either the client making the TLS handshake can see this leak, or a passive observer capturing network traffic. The key leak also enables decryption of connections which do not use forward secrecy, without the need for a man-in-the-middle attack. However, forward secrecy must be enabled in the server for this kind of key leak to happen in the first place, and with such a server configuration, most clients will use forward secrecy, so an active attack will be required for configurations which can theoretically lead to RSA-CRT key leaks.
Does this break RSA?
No. Lenstra's attack is a so-called side-channel attack, which means that it does not attack RSA directly. Rather, it exploits unexpected implementation behavior. RSA, and the RSA-CRT optimization with appropriate hardening, is still considered secure.
Are Red Hat products affected?
The short answer is: no.
The longer answer is that some of our products do not implement the recommend hardening that protects against RSA-CRT key leaks. (OpenSSL and NSS already have RSA-CRT hardening.) We will continue to work with upstream projects and help them to implement this additional defense, as we did with Oracle in OpenJDK (which led to the CVE-2015-0478 fix in April this year). None of the key leaks we observed in the wild could be attributed to these open-source projects, and no key leaks showed up in our lab testing, which is why this additional hardening, while certainly desirable to have, does not seem critical at this time.
In the process of this disclosure, we consulted some of our partners and suppliers, particularly those involved in the distribution of RPM packages. They indicated that they already implement RSA-CRT hardening, at least in the configurations we use.
What would an attack look like?
The attack itself is unobservable because the attacker performs an off-line mathematical computation on data extracted from the TLS handshake. The leak itself could be noticed by an intrusion detection system if it checks all TLS handshakes for mathematical correctness.
For the key leaks we have observed, we do not think there is a way for remote attackers to produce key leaks at will, in the sense that an attacker could manipulate the server over the network in such a way that the probability of a key leak in a particular TLS handshake increases. The only thing the attacker can do is to capture as many handshakes as possible, perhaps by initiating many such handshakes themselves.
How difficult is the mathematical computation required to recover the key?
Once the necessary data is collected, the actual computation is marginally more complicated than a regular RSA signature verification. In short, it is quite cheap in terms of computing cost, particularly in comparison to other cryptographic attacks.
Does it make sense to disable forward secrecy, as a precaution?
No. If you expect that a key leak might happen in the future, it could well have happened already. Disabling forward secrecy would enable passive observers of past key leaks to decrypt future TLS sessions, from passively captured network traffic, without having to redirect client connections. This means that disabling forward secrecy generally makes things worse. (Disabling forward secrecy and replacing the server certificate with a new one would work, though.)
How can something called Perfect Forward Secrecy expose servers to additional vulnerabilities?
“Perfect Forward Secrecy“ is just a name given to a particular tweak of the TLS protocol. It does not magically turn TLS into a perfect protocol (that is, resistant to all attacks), particularly if the implementation is incorrect or runs on faulty hardware.
Have you notified the affected vendors?
We tried to notify the affected vendors, and several of them engaged in a productive conversation. All browser PKI certificates for which we observed key leaks have been replaced and revoked.
Does this vulnerability have an name?
We think that “RSA-CRT hardening” (for the countermeasure) and “RSA-CRT key leaks” (for a successful side-channel attack) is sufficiently short and descriptive, and no branding is appropriate. We expect that several CVE IDs will be assigned for the underlying vulnerabilties leading to RSA-CRT key leaks. Some vendors may also assign CVE IDs for RSA-CRT hardening, although no key leaks have been seen in practice so far.