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Secure Programming Cookbook for C and C++ by Matt Messier, John Viega

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5.4. Selecting a Cipher Mode

Problem

You need to use a low-level interface to encryption. You have chosen a block cipher and need to select the mode in which to use that cipher.

Solution

There are various tradeoffs. For general-purpose use, we recommend CWC mode in conjunction with AES, as we discuss in the following section. If you wish to do your own message authentication, we recommend CTR mode, as long as you’re careful with it.

Discussion

First, we should emphasize that you should use a low-level mode only if it is absolutely necessary, because of the ease with which accidental security vulnerabilities can arise. For general-purpose use, we recommend a high-level abstraction, such as that discussed in Recipe 5.16.

With that out of the way, we’ll note that each cipher mode has its advantages and drawbacks. Certain drawbacks are common to all of the popular cipher modes and should usually be solved at another layer. In particular:

  • If a network attack destroys or modifies data in transit, any cipher mode that does not perform integrity checking will, if the attacker does his job properly, fail to detect an error. The modes we discuss that provide built-in integrity checking are CWC, CCM, and OCB.

  • When an attacker does tamper with a data stream by adding or truncating, most modes will be completely unable to recover. In some limited circumstances, CFB mode can recover, but this problem is nonetheless better solved at the protocol layer.

  • Especially when padding is not necessary, the ...

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