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Chapter: Cryptography and Network Security Principles and Practice : One Symmetric Ciphers : Block Ciphers and the Data Encryption Standard

Block Cipher Design Principles

The criteria used in the design of DES, as reported in [COPP94], focused on the design of the S-boxes and on the P function that takes the output of the S-boxes (Figure 3.7). The criteria for the S-boxes are as follows.



Although much progress has been made in designing block ciphers that are cryptographically strong, the basic principles have not changed all that much since the  work of Feistel and the DES design team in the early 1970s. It is useful to begin this discussion by looking at the published design criteria used in the DES effort. Then  we look at three critical aspects of block cipher design: the number of rounds, design of the function F, and key  scheduling.


DES Design Criteria

The criteria used in the design of DES, as reported in [COPP94], focused on the design of the S-boxes and on the P function that takes the output of the S-boxes (Figure 3.7). The criteria for the S-boxes are as follows.


1.      No output bit of any S-box should be too close a linear function of the input bits. Specifically, if we select any output bit and any subset of the   six input bits, the  fraction  of  inputs  for  which  this  output  bit  equals the XOR of these input bits should not be close to 0 or 1, but rather should   be near 1/2.

2.      Each row of an S-box (determined by a fixed value of the leftmost and right- most input bits) should include all 16 possible output bit combinations.

3.      If two inputs to an S-box differ in exactly one bit, the outputs must differ in at least two bits.

4.      If two inputs to an S-box differ in the two middle bits exactly, the outputs must differ in at least two bits.

5.      If two inputs to an S-box differ in their first two bits and are identical in their last two bits, the two outputs must not be the same.

6.      For any nonzero 6-bit difference between inputs, no more than eight of the 32 pairs of inputs exhibiting that difference may result in the same output difference.

7.      This is a criterion similar to the previous one, but for the case of three S-boxes.

Coppersmith pointed out that the first criterion in the preceding list was needed because the S-boxes are the only nonlinear part of DES. If the S-boxes were linear (i.e., each output bit is a linear combination of the input bits), the entire algorithm would be linear and easily broken. We have seen this phenome- non with the Hill cipher, which is linear. The remaining criteria were primarily aimed at thwarting differential cryptanalysis and at providing good confusion properties.

The criteria for the permutation P are as follows.

1.                                                  The four output bits from each S-box at round i are distributed so that two of them affect (provide input for) “middle bits” of round (i + 1) and the other two affect end bits. The two middle bits of input to an S-box are not shared with adjacent S-boxes. The end bits are the two left-hand bits and the two right-hand bits, which are shared with adjacent S-boxes.

2.                                                  The four output bits from each S-box affect six different S-boxes on the next round, and no two affect the same S-box.

3.                                                  For two S-boxes j, k, if an output bit from Sj affects a middle bit of Sk on the next round, then an output bit from Sk cannot affect a middle bit of Sj. This implies that, for k, an output bit from Sj must not affect a middle bit of   Sj.

These criteria are intended to increase the diffusion of the algorithm.


Number of Rounds

The cryptographic strength of a Feistel cipher derives from three aspects of the design: the number of rounds, the function F, and the key schedule algorithm. Let us look first at the choice of the number of rounds.

The greater the number of rounds, the more difficult it is to perform crypt- analysis, even for a relatively weak F. In general, the criterion should be that the number of rounds is chosen so that known cryptanalytic efforts require greater effort than a simple brute-force key search attack. This criterion was certainly used in the design of DES. Schneier [SCHN96] observes that for 16-round DES, a differ- ential cryptanalysis attack is slightly less efficient than brute force: The differential cryptanalysis attack requires 255.1 operations,10 whereas brute force requires 255. If DES had 15 or fewer rounds, differential cryptanalysis would require less effort than a brute-force key search.

This criterion is attractive, because it makes it easy to judge the strength of an algorithm and to compare different algorithms. In the absence of a cryptanalytic breakthrough, the strength of any algorithm that satisfies the criterion can be judged solely on key length.


Design of Function F

The heart of a Feistel block cipher is the function F. As we have seen, in DES, this function relies on the use of S-boxes. This is also the case for many other symmetric block ciphers. However, we can make some general comments about the criteria for designing F. After that, we look specifically at S-box design.

DESIGN CRITERIA FOR F The function F provides the element of confusion in a Feistel cipher. Thus, it must be difficult to “unscramble” the substitution performed by F. One obvious criterion is that F be nonlinear, as we discussed previously. The more nonlinear F, the more difficult any type of cryptanalysis will be. There are several measures of nonlinearity, which are beyond the scope of this book. In rough terms, the more difficult it is to approximate F by a set of linear equations, the more nonlinear F is.

Several other criteria should be considered in  designing F. We  would like  the algorithm to have  good  avalanche  properties.  Recall  that,  in  general,  this means that a change in one bit of the input should produce a change in many bits of the output. A more stringent version of this is the strict avalanche criterion (SAC) [WEBS86], which states that any output bit j of an S-box should change with probability 1/2 when any single input bit i is inverted for all i, j. Although SAC is expressed in terms of S-boxes, a similar criterion could be applied to F as a whole. This is important when considering designs that do not include S-boxes.

Another criterion proposed in [WEBS86] is the bit independence criterion (BIC), which states that output bits j and k should change independently when any single input bit i is inverted for all i, j, and k. The SAC and BIC criteria appear to strengthen the effectiveness of the confusion function.

S-BOX DESIGN One of the most intense areas of research in the field of symmetric block ciphers is that of S-box design. The papers are almost too numerous to count. Here we mention some general principles. In essence, we would like any change to the input vector to an S-box to result in random-looking changes to the output. The relationship should be nonlinear and difficult to approximate with linear functions.

One obvious characteristic of the S-box is its size. An n * m S-box has n input bits and m output bits. DES has 6 × 4 S-boxes. The encryption algorithm Blowfish, has 8 × 32 S-boxes. Larger S-boxes, by and large, are more resistant to differential and linear cryptanalysis [SCHN96]. On the other hand, the larger the dimension n, the (exponentially) larger the lookup table. Thus, for practical reasons, a limit of n equal to about 8 to 10 is usually imposed. Another practical consideration is that the larger the S-box, the more difficult it is to design it properly.

S-boxes are typically organized in a different manner than used in DES. An n * m S-box typically consists of 2n rows of m bits each. The n bits of input select one of the rows of the S-box, and the m bits in that row are the output. For example, in an 8 * 32 S-box, if the input is 00001001, the output consists of the 32 bits in row 9 (the first row is labeled row 0).

Mister and Adams [MIST96] propose a number of criteria for S-box design. Among these are that the S-box should satisfy both SAC and BIC. They also suggest that all linear combinations of S-box columns should be bent. Bent functions are a special class of Boolean functions that are highly nonlinear according to certain mathematical criteria [ADAM90]. There has been increasing interest in designing and analyzing S-boxes using bent functions.

A related criterion for S-boxes is proposed and analyzed in [HEYS95]. The authors define the guaranteed avalanche (GA) criterion as follows: An S-box satisfies GA of order g if, for a 1-bit input change, at least g output bits change. The authors conclude that a GA in the range of order 2 to order 5 provides strong diffusion characteristics for the overall encryption algorithm.

For larger S-boxes, such as 8 * 32, the question arises as to the best method of selecting the S-box entries in order to meet the type of criteria we have been discussing. Nyberg, who has written a lot about the theory and practice of S-box design, suggests the following approaches (quoted in [ROBS95b]):


                 Random: Use some pseudorandom number generation or some table of random digits to generate the entries in the S-boxes. This may lead to boxes with undesir- able characteristics for small sizes (e.g., 6 * 4) but should be acceptable for large S-boxes (e.g., 8 * 32).

                 Random with testing: Choose S-box entries randomly, then test the results against various criteria, and throw away those that do not pass.

                 Human-made: This is a more or less manual approach with only simple mathe- matics to support it. It is apparently the technique used in the DES design. This approach is difficult to carry through for large S-boxes.

                 Math-made: Generate S-boxes according to mathematical principles. By using mathematical construction, S-boxes can be constructed that offer proven security against linear and differential cryptanalysis, together with good diffusion.

              A variation on the first technique is to use S-boxes that are both random and key dependent. An example of this approach is Blowfish, which starts with S-boxes filled with pseudorandom digits and then alters the contents using the key. A tremendous advantage of key-dependent S-boxes is that, because they are not fixed, it is impossible to analyze the S-boxes ahead of time to look for weaknesses.


              Key  Schedule Algorithm

              A final area of block cipher design, and one that has received less attention than S-box design, is the key schedule algorithm. With any Feistel block cipher, the key is used to generate one subkey for each round. In general, we would like to select subkeys to maximize the difficulty of deducing individual subkeys and the difficulty of working back to the main key. No general principles for this have yet been promulgated.

              Hall suggests [ADAM94] that, at minimum, the key schedule should guarantee key/ciphertext Strict Avalanche Criterion and Bit Independence Criterion.

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