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Cryptographic Families

Trust us, there's no math in this section. We won't be describing prime number algorithms and elliptic curves. But it's important to understand some cryptographic operations and how they relate to the basic security principles you've already seen.

A secure hash algorithm is used to provide integrity. It can be combined with a shared-secret signing key in an HMAC algorithm to ensure authentication. HMAC is in turn the basis for a cryptographic ticket and key-derivation functions. A shared secret provides secrecy when used in symmetric-key encryption. A nonce provides anti-replay protection. An asymmetric key used as a signing key offers nonrepudiation. The TPM also uses an asymmetric key for secrecy in some protocols. All these concepts are described in the following sections.

Secure Hash (or Digest)

Most computer science students are familiar with hashes; simple hashes are used to speed searches. A more advanced form of a hash is a checksum that is used to detect random errors in data. But cryptographers are concerned with malicious attackers trying to break a system, so they need a secure cryptographic hash with very specific properties.

A cryptographic hash, like its much simpler cousins, takes a message of any length and compresses it to a hash of fixed length. For example, a SHA-256 hash is 256 bits or 32 bytes. For security purposes, the important properties of a secure hash are as follows:

• It's infeasible, given a message, to construct another message with the same hash.

• It's infeasible to construct two messages with the same hash.

• It's infeasible to derive the message given its hash.

As an example, you can observe that even a very small change in a message causes a large change in the digest produced by the hash. For example, using SHA-1, the message “Hello” hashes to:


The message “hello” with the first character changed to lowercase hashes to:


The TPM 2.0 specification allows for a number of different types of hash algorithms—SHA-1, SHA-256, and SHA-384 are just some of them. Typically, TPMs implement only a few of the allowed hashes. One problem that vexed the developers for a long time was how to integrate multiple hash algorithms (which are used to maintain integrity) if one of those hash algorithms was later broken. This is harder than it sounds, because usually hash algorithms themselves are used to provide integrity to reports, and if the hash algorithm can't be trusted, how can you trust a report of which hash algorithm is being used? The design that was chosen managed to avoid this problem: tags are used throughout the design in data elements that identify the hash algorithms used.

In the TPM, a secure hash is a building block for other operations, such as hash-extend operations, HMACs, tickets, asymmetric-key digital signatures, and key-derivation functions, all described next.

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