Local side channel attack on RSA and static Diffie-Hellman


Local side channel attack on RSA and static Diffie-Hellman




1st of September, 2020


All versions of Mbed TLS and Mbed Crypto


A powerful local attacker can extract the private key




(found internally following previous work from Alejandro Cabrera
Aldaya and Billy Bob Brumley)


RSA and static Diffie-Hellman use a counter-measure known as base blinding (see section 10 of this paper) in order to prevent (adaptative) chosen-input attacks on modular exponentiation. The counter-measure works by multiplying the base with a secret value before the modular exponentiation, then multiplying the result with a well-chosen value to recover the actual result. In order to save on computation costs, these blinding/unblinding values are not drawn at random for each operation; instead they’re drawn at random the first time only, then updated in a deterministic way. It is thus crucial that those values are not leaked: otherwise the adversary could predict future blinding values and retain the ability to choose the base passed to the modular exponentiation operation.

While generating the blinding/unblinding values, a modular inverse is computed, and a recent paper showed that our modular inverse function (more precisely, our GCD function which it calls) is vulnerable to a single-trace side-channel attack by powerful local adversaries. Such an adversary could recover the initial blinding/unblinding values, predict future values, and then proceed to use any known chosen-input attack that base blinding was supposed to protect against, with consequences ranging up to full private key compromise.


An attacker with access to precise enough timing and memory access information (typically an untrusted operating system attacking a secure enclave such as SGX or the TrustZone secure world) can recover the private keys used in RSA or static (finite-field) Diffie-Hellman operations.


Affected users will want to upgrade to Mbed TLS 2.24.0, 2.16.8 or 2.7.17 depending on the branch they’re currently using.