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ITL Bulletin for March 2009

ITL Bulletin for March 2009
ITL Bulletin for March 2009

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Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon 



Shirley Radack, Editor
Computer Security Division
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
U.S. Department of Commerce

Hash algorithms are used as components by other cryptographic algorithms and
processes to provide information security services. Hash functions are often
utilized with digital signature algorithms, keyed-hash message authentication
codes, key derivation functions, and random number generators. A hash algorithm
converts a variable length message into a condensed representation of the
electronic data in the message. This representation, or message digest, can then
be used for digital signatures, message authentication, and other secure
applications. When employed in a digital signature application, the hash value
of the message is signed instead of the message itself; the receiver can use the
signature to verify the signer of the message and to authenticate the integrity
of the signed message.

Recently, the Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST) completed a revision of the federal government=E2=80=99s
standard for secure hash functions. Issued as Federal Information Processing
Standard (FIPS) 180-3, Secure Hash Standard, and approved by the Secretary of
Commerce in October 2008, the revised standard replaces FIPS 180-2 and specifies
five secure hash algorithms.

Because recent advances in the cryptanalysis of hash functions could threaten
the security of cryptographic processes, NIST is conducting an open, public
competition to develop a new, robust cryptographic hash algorithm.=C2=A0When the new
algorithm is developed, evaluated, and approved, it will augment the hash
algorithms currently specified in FIPS 180-3.

Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 180-3, Secure Hash Standard

FIPS 180-3 includes the four hash algorithms that had been specified in the
former Secure Hash Standard (FIPS 180-2) and incorporates an additional
algorithm that had been specified in Change Notice 1 to FIPS 180-2. In addition,
the description of a truncation method that had been provided in the Change
Notice was incorporated into the revised standard. The five algorithms approved
for computing a message digest are SHA-1, SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, and

These five algorithms differ in the size of the blocks and words of data that
are used to carry out the hashing process. Messages of less than 264 bits in
length (for SHA-1, SHA-224, and SHA-256) or less than 2128 bits in length (for
SHA-384 and SHA-512) are processed by the hash algorithms to produce message
digests of 160, 224, 256, 384, and 512 bits, respectively. The algorithms also
vary in the security strengths that they provide.=C2=A0

Information about the specifications for FIPS 180-3, including requirements for
the validation of cryptographic modules implementing hash algorithms, is
available from the NIST Web page 

The secure hash algorithms are components of NIST=E2=80=99s Cryptographic Toolkit
that helps federal and private sector organizations select cryptographic
security components and processes to protect their data, communications, and
operations. Information about the toolkit, which includes a variety of
cryptographic algorithms and techniques, can be found at 


Security Strengths of Hash Functions

A secure hash function is a collision-resistant, one-way function. Collision
resistance means that it is extremely difficult to find two different messages
that will produce the same hash value. One way means that it is easy to compute
the hash value from the input, but it is extremely difficult to reproduce the
input from the hash value, or to find another input that will produce the same
hash value.=C2=A0

Hash functions are often used to determine whether or not data has changed. Many
algorithms and processes that provide a security service use a hash function as
a component of the algorithm or process, including:

=E2=80=A2 Keyed-hash message authentication code (HMAC)

=E2=80=A2 Digital signatures

=E2=80=A2 Key derivation functions (KDFs)

=E2=80=A2 Random number generators (RNGs)

Because cryptanalysts have found ways to attack commonly used hash functions,
NIST has advised federal agencies to stop as soon as practical the use of the
SHA-1 algorithm for digital signatures, digital timestamping, and other
applications that require collision resistance, and to use the SHA-2 family of
hash functions for these applications after 2010. SHA-1 may be used only for
hash-based message authentication codes, key derivation functions, and random
number generators after 2010. NIST encourages application and protocol designers
to use the SHA-2 family of hash functions for all new applications and

To keep users and developers up to date on the potential threats to the
security of hash algorithms, NIST has issued recommendations about the
security strengths of the five approved hash algorithms in a publication
that can be modified and updated in a timely manner to provide current


Recommendations for Use of Hash Algorithms

NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-107, Recommendation for Applications Using
Approved Hash Algorithms, written by Quynh Dang of NIST, explains the properties
of hash functions and how the security strength of the hash algorithm is
determined. The publication also discusses a standard method for truncating
cryptographic hash function outputs or message digests. This information helps
implementers and application developers build applications that may require a
message digest that is shorter than the full-length message digest. The
publication presents guidelines on choosing the length of the truncated message
digest based on application-related considerations and the security implications
of the selections. Other topics addressed in SP 800-107 include the use of the
hash function in digital signatures, message authentication, key derivation
functions, and random number generation.=C2=A0

Another new publication, NIST SP 800-106, Randomized Hashing for Digital
Signatures, also written by Quynh Dang, recommends a technique to randomize
messages that are input to a cryptographic hash function during the generation
of digital signatures using the Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA), Elliptic
Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA), and Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA).
Collision resistance is a required property for the cryptographic hash functions
used in digital signature applications. The randomization method presented in SP
800-106 strengthens the collision resistance provided by the cryptographic hash
functions in digital signature applications without any changes to the core
cryptographic hash functions and digital signature algorithms. A message will
have a different digital signature each time it is signed if it is randomized
with a different random value.

General guidance to organizations in their selection and use of cryptographic
mechanisms to provide security for protocols and applications is addressed in
NIST SP 800-57, Recommendation for Key Management.


NIST Special Publications are available from the Web page 


Competition to Develop a New Cryptographic Hash Algorithm

In November 2007, NIST started an open, public process to solicit candidates for
a new and robust cryptographic hash algorithm for use by federal government
agencies in protecting their information systems and information. An invitation
to submit candidate algorithms was issued, with nominations to be submitted to
NIST by October 31, 2008. The new hash algorithm, to be called SHA-3, will
augment the hash algorithms currently specified in FIPS 180-3, Secure Hash

Information about the NIST Cryptographic Hash Competition is available at 


A Federal Register notice (Vol. 72, No. 212, pp. 62212-20) published on November
2, 2007, provided the nomination requirements and the minimum acceptability
requirements for the new algorithm. The notice also included the evaluation
criteria that will be used to assess the nominations. The November Federal
Register notice is available on NIST=E2=80=99s Web page 

NIST received 64 entries for the hash algorithm competition. After an internal
review of the submissions, 51 were selected for meeting the minimum submission
requirements and were accepted as the first round candidates. NIST invites
public review of the candidate algorithms. Information about the candidate
algorithms and about the submission of comments is available at 


NIST will periodically post and update the comments that are received about
the algorithms.=C2=A0


First SHA-3 Candidate Conference

Submitters of the 51 first round candidate algorithms were invited to
participate in the First SHA-3 Candidate Conference at KU Leuven, Belgium in
February 2009, and to present their algorithms to the participants. Presentation
materials used by the submitters who participated, as well as information
prepared by those who were not able to participate, can be viewed on the Web

In addition to candidates=E2=80=99 presentations, NIST held four discussion sessions on
several technical issues to obtain public feedback. NIST also briefed conference
attendees on its plan to select about 15 second round candidates by summer 2009,
and discussed the criteria for this process. Public comments on the first round
candidates should be received by June 1, 2009, in order to be considered in the
selection of the second round candidates. Presentations and discussion topics of
these sessions are also available at the Web site shown above.


Technical Evaluations of SHA-3 Candidates

NIST plans to hold a second round of review to evaluate the security of the
submitted algorithms. In addition to the ongoing public review and evaluation,
NIST will conduct computational efficiency tests on the candidate algorithms
using various platforms. The public is also invited to conduct similar testing
and to compare results. The rights to those candidates not selected for the
second round of review will be returned to their owners. At the start of the
second review period, submitters will have the option of providing updated
optimized implementations for use during this phase of evaluation.=C2=A0

A second SHA-3 Candidate Conference will be held in the third quarter of 2010 to
continue the review and evaluation of candidate algorithms and to reduce the
number of candidate algorithms to approximately five. After another period to
review these finalist candidates, NIST will hold a third SHA-3 Candidate
Conference to discuss these candidates. NIST will then select the winning
algorithm and document the technical rationale for the selection in a final
report. A revision to the Secure Hash Standard will be proposed, including the
newly selected SHA-3, for public review before final action to adopt the revised
standard. NIST plans to support the standard by developing a program to validate
implementations of the new hash algorithm for conformance to the specifications.

The public competition for a new hash algorithm was modeled after the very
successful Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) competition=E2=80=94a process that NIST
had followed to develop the AES (FIPS 197). NIST launched the AES competition by
first publishing the minimum requirements, submission requirements, and the
evaluation criteria for public comment. An AES workshop was held to discuss
these requirements and evaluation criteria before a call for new algorithms was
issued. The review, analysis, and a variety of tests of the submitted algorithms
were conducted in stages, by NIST and by the international cryptographic
community. Public feedback was provided through an electronic forum and public
conferences. After the winning algorithm was selected, NIST published a report
that documented the AES development effort as well as the final selection.


Hash Forum

NIST has established a Hash Forum for discussion of the hash cryptographic
algorithm project. A mailing list that distributes posted messages to the list
members is available. Those who wish to be included on the mailing list
( can find instructions for joining at 


Considerations in the Selection of SHA-3

SHA-3 is expected to offer features or properties that exceed, or improve upon,
the SHA-2 family of algorithms specified in FIPS 180-3. The security strength of
SHA-3 should be close to the theoretical maximum for the different required hash
sizes, and for both the collision resistance and one-way properties. SHA-3
algorithms are expected to be designed to resist any potentially successful
attacks on SHA-2 functions. In addition, SHA-3 should be implementable on a
variety of platforms, and should be more efficient than the current hash

NIST would prefer a single hash algorithm family that generates different
message digest sizes in a similar manner. However, if more than one suitable
candidate family is identified, and each provides significant advantages, NIST
may consider recommending more than one family for inclusion in the revised
Secure Hash Standard.

The hash algorithm will be publicly disclosed and available worldwide without
royalties or any intellectual property restrictions. The algorithm will also be
capable of being implemented on a wide range of hardware and software platforms,
and support message digest sizes of 224, 256, 384, and 512 bits and a maximum
message length of at least 264-1 bits.

Contact for Information about the Cryptographic Hash Project

Questions concerning the technical requirements for SHA-3 may be directed

Mr. William E. Burr
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8930
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8930
Telephone: 301-975-2914
Email: william.burr (at)
Fax: 301-975-8670


Related Publications

The following FIPS and NIST Special Publications (SPs) require the use of a
NIST-approved hash algorithm:

FIPS 186-2, Digital Signature Standard

FIPS 198, The Keyed-Hash Message Authentication Code (HMAC)

NIST SP 800-56A, Recommendation for Pair-Wise Key Establishment Schemes
Using Discrete Logarithm Cryptography

NIST SP 800-90, Recommendation for Random Number Generation Using
Deterministic Random Bit Generators (DRBGs)

For information about NIST standards and guidelines that are referenced in this
bulletin, as well as other security-related publications, see NIST=E2=80=99s Web page - 



Any mention of commercial products or reference to commercial organizations
is for information only; it does not imply recommendation or endorsement by
NIST nor does it imply that the products mentioned are necessarily the best
available for the purpose.


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