Kleptography

Kleptography is the study of stealing information securely and subliminally. Kleptography is a subfield of cryptography and cryptovirology, and is a natural extension of the theory of subliminal channels that was pioneered by Gus Simmons. Kleptography is also related to steganography.

Kleptography was introduced by Adam Young and Moti Yung in the Proceedings of Advances in Cryptology—Crypto '96. A kleptographic attack is a forward-engineering attack that is built into a cryptosystem or cryptographic protocol. The attack constitutes an asymmetric backdoor that is built into a smartcard, dynamically linked library, computer program, or other cryptographic device. Unlike a symmetric backdoor, which can be accessed by anyone who is aware of it, an asymmetric backdoor can be used exclusively by the attacker who planted it. Even if the full specification of the backdoor is published, it would remain unusable without additional data possessed only by the attacker. Furthermore, the outputs of the infected cryptosystem are computationally indistinguishable from the outputs of the corresponding uninfected cryptosystem. Hence, in black-box implementations (e.g., smartcards) the attack is likely to go entirely unnoticed. The asymmetry ensures that even a well-funded reverse-engineer can at best detect the asymmetric backdoor — not use it.

Kleptographic attacks can be constructed as a cryptotrojan that infects a cryptosystem and opens a backdoor for the attacker, or can be implemented by the manufacturer of a cryptosystem. The attack does not necessarily have to reveal the entirety of the cryptosystem's output; a more complicated attack technique may alternate between producing uninfected output and insecure data with the backdoor present.

Kleptographic attacks have been designed for RSA key generation, the Diffie-Hellman key exchange, the Digital Signature Algorithm, and other cryptographic algorithms and protocols. SSL, SSH, and IPSec protocols are vulnerable to kleptographic attacks. In each case, the attacker is able to compromise the particular cryptographic algorithm or protocol by inspecting the information that the backdoor information is encoded in (e.g., the public key, the digital signature, the key exchange messages, etc.) and then exploiting the logic of the asymmetric backdoor using his or her secret key (usually a private key).

A. Juels and J. Guajardo proposed a method (KEGVER) through which a third party can verify RSA key generation. This is devised as a form of distributed key generation in which the secret key is only known to the black box itself. This assures that the key generation process was not modified and that the private key cannot be reproduced through a kleptographic attack.

Four practical examples of kleptographic attacks (including a simplified SETUP attack against RSA) can be found in JCrypTool 1.0, the platform-independent version of the open-source CrypTool project. A demonstration of the prevention of kleptographic attacks by means of the KEGVER method is also implemented in JCrypTool.