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

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5.15. Performing File or Disk Encryption

Problem

You want to encrypt a file or a disk.

Solution

If you’re willing to use a nonce or an initialization vector, standard modes such as CBC and CTR are acceptable. For file-at-a-time encryption, you can avoid the use of a nonce or IV altogether by using the LION construction, described in Section 5.15.3.

Generally, keys will be generated from a password. For that, use PKCS #5, as discussed in Recipe 4.10.

Discussion

Disk encryption is usually done in fixed-size chunks at the operating system level. File encryption can be performed in chunks so that random access to an encrypted file doesn’t require decrypting the entire file. This also has the benefit that part of a file can be changed without reencrypting the entire file.

CBC mode is commonly used for this purpose, and it is used on chunks that are a multiple of the block size of the underlying block cipher, so that padding is never necessary. This eliminates any message expansion that one would generally expect with CBC mode.

However, when people are doing disk or file encryption with CBC mode, they often use a fixed initialization vector. That’s a bad idea because an initialization vector is expected to be random for CBC mode to obtain its security goals. Using a fixed IV leads to dictionary-like attacks that can often lead to recovering, at the very least, the beginning of a file.

Other modes that require only a nonce (not an initialization vector) tend to be streaming modes. These ...

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