By Bri Hatch.
Summary: Every programmer tries to build their own encryption algorithm at some point. In one word: Don't.
Cryptography is a fun but tricky art. Almost every programmer has at some point in their career tried to write their own cryptographic algorithms. While the computations used to create the resulting encrypted output may be complicated and seem rock solid, usually custom cryptographic algorithms end up falling for one or more classic crypto pitfalls.
These are just some of the problems that come up time and time again when someone creates their own cryptographic algorithms. If you want to securely encrypt data, you should use any of the freely available systems, for example PGP for files, SSL for network connections, or Blowfish/AES/etc for arbitrary data encryption. When using public cryptographic systems you must still take care to use them properly -- don't use SSL unless you verify certificates on both ends, don't reuse the same key for Blowfish encryption, etc -- but at least the algorithm itself will be one that has been scrutinized by respected cryptographers.
So, why did this all come up today? I was working with a client and was curious why their database was filled with seemingly meaningless data. They told me it was the encrypted billing info for the clients. Looking at it, I could tell that they'd whipped up some "encryption" algorithm on their own, and sat down and broke it.
Now, it's your turn.
I've encrypted five strings (normal printable English) using this weak encryption algorithm. If you're able to decrypt the input strings, send me an email explaining how you did it. The best writeup works will get a copy of Hacking Linux Exposed, Second Edition in the mail.
On Sunday morning, I'll post a hint or two on this page for those who need the extra help. Entries submitted before I post hints will be prefered over those received later.
Here are the encrypted strings:
!8@!>@!E`!EP!H`!GP!I0!GP!60!A@!I`!J@!L@!M@!7P!A0!N0!L@!L@!MP!J@!J@ !!@!1P!=P!?P!=P!?`!>`!<0!?0!;0!?0!=@!B`!,`!>@!A0!,P!>@!B@!A` !^`!P0![0![0!IP!]0!H@!Z`!Y0!^0!I@!``![0!]0!]@!^@!`P!K0!`0!_0!_P!"`!P` !T`!M0!TP!V0!X0!Y0!C@!P0!Y0!W0!UP!Y@!H@ !S@!O0!W`!SP!BP!V0!X@!X@!XP!D`!G@!D@!YP!V0![0!Z@!EP!X0![`!F@!W0!X0!\`!\@!K0
Yes, all those ! characters are supposed to be there.
 XOR is the exclusive bitwise OR operation, frequently used in cryptographic algorithms. It boils down to this: 0 XOR 0 == 0, 0 XOR 1 == 1, 1 XOR 0 == 1, 1 XOR 1 == 0.
 Usually this stream is actually created by some mathematical algorithm, where the algorithm is seeded by an actual key.
 Those reading this newsletter in email, check the web page version at http://www.hackinglinuxexposed.com/articles/20030122.html for the hints.
Bri Hatch is Chief Hacker at Onsight, Inc and author of Hacking Linux Exposed and Building Linux VPNs. He developed his first (horribly insecure) cryptographic algorithm when he was six. It was no better than ROT13, but took up a lot more space and CPU power. Bri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Bri Hatch, 2003
This is the January 22, 2003 issue of the Linux Security: Tips, Tricks, and Hackery newsletter. If you wish to subscribe, visit http://lists.onsight.com/ or send email to Linux_Securityemail@example.com.