PuTTY semi-bug ssh2-cbc-pktlen-weakness

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summary: In CBC modes, decrypting the packet length can leak information
class: semi-bug: This might or might not be a bug, depending on your precise definition of what a bug is.
difficulty: tricky: Needs many tuits.
priority: high: This should be fixed in the next release.
absent-in: 0.49
present-in: 2008-11-25
fixed-in: 2008-11-27 r8334

There is an attack against the CBC-mode ciphers of SSH-2 that can allow an attacker to extract small parts of plaintext. The attack works by inserting a bogus block into the ciphertext stream such that it gets decrypted into a packet length and then seeing how much data the target consumes before reporting a MAC error.

PuTTY is intrinsically slightly more resistant to this attack than OpenSSH, as it has tighter restrictions on the packet lengths it will accept. As a result, against PuTTY, the attack has only a 2^-20 or 2^-21 probability of working. To put it another way, if the attacker can guess a certain 20 or 21 bits of a plaintext block, they can have that guess verified and extract a certain other 11 or 12 bits.

SDCTR-mode ciphers are not vulnerable to this attack. Since implementing them, PuTTY has preferred them to CBC, and hence has only used CBC when talking to a server that was incapable of SDCTR.

PuTTY now also makes a deliberate effort to counter this problem by only trusting the packet length once the MAC on the packet has been verified. This causes extra work (since the MAC has to be checked for every possible packet length), and makes detection of genuine MAC errors slower, so it's only enabled when using a CBC cipher. In any case, it only defends the data sent by the server to the client. Client-to-server data need to be protected by similar action by the server.

This problem corresponds with US-CERT VU#958563. It is distinct from the previous ssh2-cbc-weakness.

Audit trail for this semi-bug.

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(last revision of this bug record was at 2008-11-26 12:51:48 +0000)