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Improved Arcfour Modes for the Secure Shell (SSH) Transport Layer Protocol
RFC 4345

Document type: RFC - Proposed Standard (January 2006; Errata)
Was draft-harris-ssh-arcfour-fixes (individual in sec area)
Document stream: IETF
Last updated: 2013-03-02
Other versions: plain text, pdf, html

IETF State: (None)
Consensus: Unknown
Document shepherd: No shepherd assigned

IESG State: RFC 4345 (Proposed Standard)
Responsible AD: Sam Hartman
Send notices to: bjh21@bjh21.me.uk

Network Working Group                                          B. Harris
Request for Comments: 4345                                  January 2006
Category: Standards Track

                      Improved Arcfour Modes for
            the Secure Shell (SSH) Transport Layer Protocol

Status of This Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).

Abstract

   This document specifies methods of using the Arcfour cipher in the
   Secure Shell (SSH) protocol that mitigate the weakness of the
   cipher's key-scheduling algorithm.

1.  Introduction

   Secure Shell (SSH) [RFC4251] is a secure remote-login protocol.  It
   allows for the use of an extensible variety of symmetric cipher
   algorithms to provide confidentiality for data in transit.  One of
   the algorithms specified in the base protocol is "arcfour", which
   specifies the use of Arcfour (also known as RC4), a fast stream
   cipher.  As [RFC4253] says, though, "Arcfour (and RC4) has problems
   with weak keys, and should be used with caution."  These problems are
   described in more detail in [MANTIN01], along with a recommendation
   to discard the first 1536 bytes of keystream so as to ensure that the
   cipher's internal state is thoroughly mixed.  This document specifies
   new cipher algorithms for SSH that follow this recommendation.

2.  Conventions Used in this Document

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this
   document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

Harris                      Standards Track                     [Page 1]
RFC 4345             Improved Arcfour Modes for SSH         January 2006

3.  Applicability Statement

   Implementations of Arcfour are typically slightly faster and much
   smaller than those of any other encryption algorithm currently
   defined for SSH.  This must be balanced, though, against the known
   security problems with Arcfour described in Section 5.  In most
   cases, where speed and code size are not critical issues, the
   algorithms specified by [RFC4344] should be used instead.

4.  Algorithm Definitions

   The "arcfour128" algorithm is the RC4 cipher, as described in
   [SCHNEIER], using a 128-bit key.  The first 1536 bytes of keystream
   generated by the cipher MUST be discarded, and the first byte of the
   first encrypted packet MUST be encrypted using the 1537th byte of
   keystream.

   The "arcfour256" algorithm is the same, but uses a 256-bit key.

5.  Security Considerations

   The security considerations in [RFC4251] apply.

   The discarded bytes of keystream MUST be kept secret and MUST NOT be
   transmitted over the network.  The contents of these bytes could
   reveal information about the key.

   There are two classes of attack on Arcfour described in [MIRONOV].
   Strong distinguishers distinguish an Arcfour keystream from
   randomness at the start of the stream and are defended against by the
   algorithm defined in this document.  Weak distinguishers can operate
   on any part of the keystream, and the best ones, described in [FMcG]
   and [MANTIN05], can use data from multiple, different keystreams.  A
   consequence of this is that encrypting the same data (for instance, a
   password) sufficiently many times in separate Arcfour keystreams can
   be sufficient to leak information about it to an adversary.  It is
   thus RECOMMENDED that Arcfour (either in the form described here or
   that described in [RFC4251]) not be used for high-volume password-
   authenticated connections.

6.  IANA Considerations

   The IANA has assigned the Encryption Algorithm Names "arcfour128" and
   "arcfour256" in accordance with [RFC4250].

Harris                      Standards Track                     [Page 2]
RFC 4345             Improved Arcfour Modes for SSH         January 2006

7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

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