Password Authenticated Key Exchange (PAKE) is one of the central topics in cryptography. It aims to address a practical security problem: how to establish secure communication between two parties solely based on their shared password without requiring a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).
The solution to the above problem is very useful in practice — in fact, so useful that it spawns a lot “fights” over patents. Many techniques were patented, including the well-known Encrypted Key Exchange (EKE) and Simple Password Exponential Key Exchange (SPEKE). A secondary problem is technical; both the EKE and SPEKE protocols have subtle but worrying technical limitations (see the paper for details).
At the 16th Workshop on Security Protocols held in April 2008, Cambridge, UK, I presented a new solution (joint work with Peter Ryan) called Password Authenticated Key Exchange by Juggling (or J-PAKE). The essence of the protocol design inherits from the earlier work on solving the Dining Cryptographers problem; we adapted the same juggling technique to the two-party case to solve the PAKE problem. To our best knowledge, this design is significantly different from all past PAKE solutions.
Intuitively, the J-PAKE protocol works like a juggling game between two people — if we regard a public key as a “ball”. In round one, each person throws two ephemeral public keys (“balls”) to each other. In round 2, each person combines the available public keys and the password to form a new public key, and throws the new “ball” to each other.
After round 2, the two parties can securely compute a common session key, if they supplied the same passwords. Otherwise, the protocol leaks nothing more than: “the supplied passwords at two sides are not the same”. In other words, one can prove his knowledge of the password without revealing it. A Java implementation of the protocol on a MacBook Pro laptop shows that the total computation time at each side is merely 75 ms.
We hope this protocol is of usefulness to security engineers. For example, compared with SSL/TLS, J-PAKE is potentially much more resistant against phishing attacks, not to mention that it is PKI-free. Since this protocol is the result of an academic research project, we didn’t — and have no intention to — patent it. As explained in the paper, J-PAKE even has technical advantages over the patented EKE and SPEKE in terms of security, with comparable efficiency. It has been submitted as a follow-up to the possible future extension of IEEE P1363.2.
We believe the PAKE research is important and has strong practical relevance. This post is to facilitate discussions on this subject. The paper can be viewed here. Any comments or questions are welcome.
- 2008-06-28: a crude J-PAKE demo source code (.java) by me. (link broken)
- 2008-11-04: a more refined J-PAKE in C and OpenSSL by Ben Laurie.
- 2008-11-11: possible applications of J-PAKE in VPN and browser by James.
- 2009-02-08: public group parameters for 112-bit and 128-bit security can be found in the comments.
- 2009-03-15: fixed the broken link to the old Java file. Here is the link to the Java demo code.
- 2010-04-17: a journal version of the paper available on IACR. No technical change to the protocol.
- 2010-10-25: the journal version of the paper is accepted to publish on the TCS journal – Springer Transactions on Computational Science, the special issue on “Security in Computing”, 2011.
- 2010-11-25: Sebastien Martini reported an implementation issue of J-PAKE in OpenSSL and OpenSSH. The issue is not applicable to the Java demo code that I wrote. As stated in the last paragraph of p. 11 in the paper, one shall check the element lies within the specified group. Stefan Arentz implemented a fix in OpenSSL. Official OpenSSL and OpenSSH patches can be found here and here.
- 2011-01-11: Mozilla built J-PAKE into the base product of Firefox 4 ( beta 8 and later ). More details here.
- 2012-01-18: Today, Mohsen Toorani uploaded a paper on IACR eprint to claim several attacks on J-PAKE. My response can be found here.
- 2012-07-21: Phil Clay contributed a Java implementation of J-PAKE to bouncycastle.
- 2013-02-24: J-PAKE included into bouncycastle 1.48.
- 2013-03-28: a code example to show how to use J-PAKE in bouncycastle