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# Security of MACS

Just as with encryption algorithms and hash functions, we can group attacks on MACs into two categories: brute-force attacks and cryptanalysis.

SECURITY OF MACS

Just as with encryption algorithms and hash functions, we can group attacks on MACs into two categories: brute-force attacks and cryptanalysis.

Brute-Force Attacks

A brute-force attack on a MAC is a more difficult undertaking than a brute-force attack on a hash function because it requires known message-tag pairs. Let us see why this is so. To attack a hash code, we can proceed in the following way. Given a fixed message x with n-bit hash code h = H(x), a brute-force method of finding a collision is to pick a random bit string y and check if H(y) = H(x). The attacker can do this repeatedly off line. Whether an off-line attack can be used on a MAC algo- rithm depends on the relative size of the key and the tag.

To proceed, we need to state the desired security property of a MAC algo- rithm, which can be expressed as follows.

Computation resistance: Given one or more text-MAC pairs [xi, MAC(K, xi)], it   is   computationally   infeasible   to   compute   any   text-MAC    pair    [x, MAC(K, x)] for any new input x |=xi.

In other words, the attacker would like to come up with the valid MAC code for a given message x. There are two lines of attack possible: attack the key space and attack the MAC value. We examine each of these in turn.

If an attacker can determine the MAC key, then it is possible to generate a valid MAC value for any input x. Suppose the key size is k bits and that the attacker has one known text–tag pair. Then the attacker can compute the n-bit tag on the known text for all possible keys. At least one key is guaranteed to produce the cor- rect tag, namely, the valid key that was initially used to produce the known text–tag pair. This phase of the attack takes a level of effort proportional to 2k (that is, one operation for each of the 2k possible key values). However, as was described earlier, because the MAC is a many-to-one mapping, there may be other keys that produce the correct value. Thus, if more than one key is found to produce the correct value, additional text–tag pairs must be tested. It can be shown that the level of effort drops off rapidly with each additional text–MAC pair and that the overall level of effort is roughly 2k [MENE97].

An attacker can also work on the tag without attempting to recover the key. Here, the objective is to generate a valid tag for a given message or to find a message that matches a given tag. In either case, the level of effort is comparable to that for attacking the one-way or weak collision-resistant property of a hash code, or 2n. In the case of the MAC, the attack cannot be conducted off line without further input; the attacker will require chosen text–tag pairs or knowl- edge of the key.

To summarize, the level of effort for brute-force attack on a MAC algorithm can be expressed as min(2k, 2n). The assessment of strength is similar to that for symmetric encryption algorithms. It would appear reasonable to require that the key length and tag length satisfy a relationship such as min(k, n) Ú N, where N is perhaps in the range of 128 bits.

Cryptanalysis

As with encryption algorithms and hash functions, cryptanalytic attacks on MAC algorithms seek to exploit some property of the algorithm to perform some attack other than an exhaustive search. The way to measure the resistance of a MAC algorithm to cryptanalysis is to compare its strength to the effort required for a brute-force attack. That is, an ideal MAC algorithm will require a cryptanalytic effort greater than or equal to the brute-force effort.

There is much more variety in the structure of MACs than in hash functions, so it is difficult to generalize about the cryptanalysis of MACs. Furthermore, far less work has been done on developing such attacks. A useful survey of some methods  for specific MACs is [PREN96].

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Cryptography and Network Security Principles and Practice : Cryptographic Data Integrity Algorithms : Message Authentication Codes : Security of MACS |

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