Sebastian Schinzel gave an interesting talk today at 28C3, about timing side channel attacks against web applications. (Timing-) Side channel attacks are known in the cryptography world for a long time, and many algorithms like RSA or AES have been successfully attacked. In a nutshell, an attacker measures the time a device needs to process a request (usually an encryption or decryption), and can draw conclusions from that to the values of secret input parameters (a plaintext or a secret key).
Sebastian showed, that this can be used against none cryptography web applications as well. Instead of just presenting his attacks, he presented general methods how to do timing measurements against web applications first. For example, a web application could perform the following sequence of checks during a user login:
- Does the account exist?
- Is the account of the user locked?
- Has the account expired?
- Is the password correct?
If one of these checks fails, the procedure is aborted and an error page is send to the user. Of course, each of these steps requires some time, and from the time it takes from the request to the generation of the error message, one might guess, which of these steps went wrong.
The second attack presented in this talk was a timing attack on an implementation of the XML encryption standard using a PKCS#1.5 padding. Here, the server needs a longer time to process a request, depending on the padding inside the encrypted payload.
For me, my personal highlight was the extension of timing based side channel attacks to none cartographic web applications. I assume, if one would check some famous web applications, many of such timing leaks could be found, because web developers usually don’t care about timing side channels. The timing difference could also be used to assist blind SQL injection attacks, where the timing difference could be the only channel back to the attacker.
Unfortunately, the slides are not (yet) available, but a previous paper describing the methods can be found at http://sebastian-schinzel.de/_download/cosade-2011-extended-abstract.pdf.