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Symmetric-Encryption Key

A symmetric-encryption key is a key used with a symmetric-encryption algorithm. Symmetric algorithms use the same key for both encryption and decryption. (An HMAC key is also a symmetric key, but it's used for signing, not encryption.)

A typical symmetric-key algorithm is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Other algorithms are supported by the specification, including Camellia and SM4; but because they all work pretty much the same, all of this book's examples use AES. The TPM uses symmetric-key encryption in three different ways:

Keeping TPM data secret from all observers: The symmetric key isn't shared outside the TPM. It's generated by and known only to the TPM. For example, when a key is cached (offloaded) from the TPM in order to free memory for other TPM operations, the TPM encrypts the key using symmetric encryption. This symmetric key is known only to the TPM.

Encrypting communications to and from the TPM: Here, the symmetric key is generated based on a secret agreed on by the sender and the TPM. Then parameters are passed to the TPM encrypted, and the results are returned encrypted from the TPM to the user.

Using the TPM as a cryptographic coprocessor: Because the TPM knows how to encrypt things using symmetric keys, you can use the TPM to do that. You can load a key into the TPM and then ask the TPM to encrypt data with that key. TPMs usually aren't very fast at doing this, so this is typically only done for a small amount of data, but it can prevent an application programmer from having to use a cryptographic library for some programs. When specified as optional by the platform-specific TPM specifications, it's likely that TPM vendors and/or platform manufacturers will exclude symmetric encryption and decryption commands, because a hardware device that can do bulk symmetric-key operations can be subject to export (or perhaps import) restrictions or licensing.

Symmetric-key encryption is a little more complicated than just picking an algorithm and a key. You also need to select a mode of encryption. Different modes are used in different protocols.

Symmetric-Key Modes

Typical symmetric-key encryption algorithms like AES work on blocks of data. Two problems must be solved when using block-mode encryption:

• If blocks are simply encrypted with the key, the same block will always produce the same result. This is called electronic codebook (ECB) mode. If a bitmap picture is encrypted using ECB, all that happens is that the colors are changed. [1] Obviously this isn't useful if the data being encrypted is large.

To counter this, the TPM supports several other modes: cipher-block chaining (CBC), cipher-feedback (CFB), outputfeedback (OFB), and counter (CTR). All these modes have the property that if the same block is encrypted more than once in the same message, the result is different each time.

• Some modes, like CBC, require that the output be an exact multiple of the block size of the underlying algorithm. If the input isn't a multiple of the block size (which is usually 128 bits or 16 bytes), it is padded to make this true. When this input is encrypted, the output is larger than the initial data by the size of the padding. For applications where the output can be a different size than the input (such as offloading a key), this isn't a problem; but it's inappropriate when the input and output must be the same size (such as when you're encrypting a TPM command).

In this second case, you can use CFB or CTR mode. In CFB mode, a symmetric key encrypts an initialization vector, with the result being used as the initialization vector for the next block. In CTR mode, the symmetric key is used to encrypt incrementing counter values. In both modes, the resulting byte stream is XORed with the input to produce the output.

As many bytes of the stream as necessary are used, and extra bytes are discarded, so the output is the same size as the input.

A property of CFB and CTR modes (actually a property of XOR) is that flipping a bit in the encrypted stream flips exactly the same bit in the decrypted stream. The attacker may not know the message but can certainly alter it. An attacker can flip a bit in a message encrypted using CBC mode as well, but more bits will change in the decrypted data.

This leads to an important (and often missed) point. Encryption provides secrecy, but it does not provide integrity or authenticity. To ensure those latter properties, the TPM uses an HMAC on the encrypted data. It does not depend on the decrypted data “looking funny” to detect alteration. Indeed, by calculating the HMAC of the encrypted message first, the TPM will not even attempt to decrypt it unless it is first determined that the message's integrity is intact and that it is authentic.

Additionally, encryption does not provide evidence that the message was produced recently. That is done with a nonce.

  • [1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_cipher_mode_of_operation.
 
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