Authenticated encryption

Last updated 4 months ago

Example

#define MESSAGE (const unsigned char *) "test"
#define MESSAGE_LEN 4
#define CIPHERTEXT_LEN (crypto_box_MACBYTES + MESSAGE_LEN)
unsigned char alice_publickey[crypto_box_PUBLICKEYBYTES];
unsigned char alice_secretkey[crypto_box_SECRETKEYBYTES];
crypto_box_keypair(alice_publickey, alice_secretkey);
unsigned char bob_publickey[crypto_box_PUBLICKEYBYTES];
unsigned char bob_secretkey[crypto_box_SECRETKEYBYTES];
crypto_box_keypair(bob_publickey, bob_secretkey);
unsigned char nonce[crypto_box_NONCEBYTES];
unsigned char ciphertext[CIPHERTEXT_LEN];
randombytes_buf(nonce, sizeof nonce);
if (crypto_box_easy(ciphertext, MESSAGE, MESSAGE_LEN, nonce,
bob_publickey, alice_secretkey) != 0) {
/* error */
}
unsigned char decrypted[MESSAGE_LEN];
if (crypto_box_open_easy(decrypted, ciphertext, CIPHERTEXT_LEN, nonce,
alice_publickey, bob_secretkey) != 0) {
/* message for Bob pretending to be from Alice has been forged! */
}

Purpose

Using public-key authenticated encryption, Bob can encrypt a confidential message specifically for Alice, using Alice's public key.

Using Bob's public key, Alice can compute a shared secret key. Using Alice's public key and his secret key, Bob can compute the exact same shared secret key. That shared secret key can be used to verify that the encrypted message was not tampered with, before eventually decrypting it.

Alice only needs Bob's public key, the nonce and the ciphertext. Bob should never ever share his secret key, even with Alice.

And in order to send messages to Alice, Bob only needs Alice's public key. Alice should never ever share her secret key either, even with Bob.

Alice can reply to Bob using the same system, without having to generate a distinct key pair.

The nonce doesn't have to be confidential, but it should be used with just one invocation of crypto_box_open_easy() for a particular pair of public and secret keys.

One easy way to generate a nonce is to use randombytes_buf(), considering the size of the nonces the risk of any random collisions is negligible. For some applications, if you wish to use nonces to detect missing messages or to ignore replayed messages, it is also acceptable to use a simple incrementing counter as a nonce. An better alternative is to use the crypto_secretstream() API.

When doing so you must ensure that the same value can never be re-used (for example you may have multiple threads or even hosts generating messages using the same key pairs).

As stated above, senders can decrypt their own messages, and compute a valid authentication tag for any messages encrypted with a given shared secret key. This is generally not an issue for online protocols. If this is not acceptable, check out the Sealed Boxes section, as well as the Key Exchange section in this documentation.

Key pair generation

int crypto_box_keypair(unsigned char *pk, unsigned char *sk);

The crypto_box_keypair() function randomly generates a secret key and a corresponding public key. The public key is put into pk (crypto_box_PUBLICKEYBYTES bytes) and the secret key into sk (crypto_box_SECRETKEYBYTES bytes).

int crypto_box_seed_keypair(unsigned char *pk, unsigned char *sk,
const unsigned char *seed);

Using crypto_box_seed_keypair(), the key pair can also be deterministically derived from a single key seed (crypto_box_SEEDBYTES bytes).

int crypto_scalarmult_base(unsigned char *q, const unsigned char *n);

In addition, crypto_scalarmult_base() can be used to compute the public key given a secret key previously generated with crypto_box_keypair():

unsigned char pk[crypto_box_PUBLICKEYBYTES];
crypto_scalarmult_base(pk, sk);

Combined mode

In combined mode, the authentication tag and the encrypted message are stored together. This is usually what you want.

int crypto_box_easy(unsigned char *c, const unsigned char *m,
unsigned long long mlen, const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *pk, const unsigned char *sk);

The crypto_box_easy() function encrypts a message m whose length is mlen bytes, with a recipient's public key pk, a sender's secret key sk and a nonce n.

n should be crypto_box_NONCEBYTES bytes.

c should be at least crypto_box_MACBYTES + mlen bytes long.

This function writes the authentication tag, whose length is crypto_box_MACBYTES bytes, in c, immediately followed by the encrypted message, whose length is the same as the plaintext: mlen.

c and m can overlap, making in-place encryption possible. However do not forget that crypto_box_MACBYTES extra bytes are required to prepend the tag.

int crypto_box_open_easy(unsigned char *m, const unsigned char *c,
unsigned long long clen, const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *pk, const unsigned char *sk);

The crypto_box_open_easy() function verifies and decrypts a ciphertext produced by crypto_box_easy().

c is a pointer to an authentication tag + encrypted message combination, as produced by crypto_box_easy(). clen is the length of this authentication tag + encrypted message combination. Put differently, clen is the number of bytes written by crypto_box_easy(), which is crypto_box_MACBYTES + the length of the message.

The nonce n has to match the nonce used to encrypt and authenticate the message.

pk is the public key of the sender that encrypted the message. sk is the secret key of the recipient that is willing to verify and decrypt it.

The function returns -1 if the verification fails, and 0 on success. On success, the decrypted message is stored into m.

m and c can overlap, making in-place decryption possible.

Detached mode

Some applications may need to store the authentication tag and the encrypted message at different locations.

For this specific use case, "detached" variants of the functions above are available.

int crypto_box_detached(unsigned char *c, unsigned char *mac,
const unsigned char *m,
unsigned long long mlen,
const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *pk,
const unsigned char *sk);

This function encrypts a message m of length mlen with a nonce n and a secret key sk for a recipient whose public key is pk, and puts the encrypted message into c.

Exactly mlen bytes will be put into c, since this function does not prepend the authentication tag.

The tag, whose size is crypto_box_MACBYTES bytes, will be put into mac.

int crypto_box_open_detached(unsigned char *m,
const unsigned char *c,
const unsigned char *mac,
unsigned long long clen,
const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *pk,
const unsigned char *sk);

The crypto_box_open_detached() function verifies and decrypts an encrypted message c whose length is clen using the recipient's secret key sk and the sender's public key pk.

clen doesn't include the tag, so this length is the same as the plaintext.

The plaintext is put into m after verifying that mac is a valid authentication tag for this ciphertext, with the given nonce n and key k.

The function returns -1 if the verification fails, or 0 on success.

Precalculation interface

Applications that send several messages to the same receiver or receive several messages from the same sender can gain speed by calculating the shared key only once, and reusing it in subsequent operations.

int crypto_box_beforenm(unsigned char *k, const unsigned char *pk,
const unsigned char *sk);

The crypto_box_beforenm() function computes a shared secret key given a public key pk and a secret key sk, and puts it into k (crypto_box_BEFORENMBYTES bytes).

int crypto_box_easy_afternm(unsigned char *c, const unsigned char *m,
unsigned long long mlen, const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *k);
int crypto_box_open_easy_afternm(unsigned char *m, const unsigned char *c,
unsigned long long clen, const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *k);
int crypto_box_detached_afternm(unsigned char *c, unsigned char *mac,
const unsigned char *m, unsigned long long mlen,
const unsigned char *n, const unsigned char *k);
int crypto_box_open_detached_afternm(unsigned char *m, const unsigned char *c,
const unsigned char *mac,
unsigned long long clen, const unsigned char *n,
const unsigned char *k);

The _afternm variants of the previously described functions accept a precalculated shared secret key k instead of a key pair.

Like any secret key, a precalculated shared key should be wiped from memory (for example using sodium_memzero()) as soon as it is not needed any more.

c and m can overlap, making in-place encryption possible. However do not forget that crypto_box_MACBYTES extra bytes are required to prepend the tag.

Constants

  • crypto_box_PUBLICKEYBYTES

  • crypto_box_SECRETKEYBYTES

  • crypto_box_MACBYTES

  • crypto_box_NONCEBYTES

  • crypto_box_SEEDBYTES

  • crypto_box_BEFORENMBYTES

Algorithm details

  • Key exchange: X25519

  • Encryption: XSalsa20 stream cipher

  • Authentication: Poly1305 MAC

Notes

The original NaCl crypto_box API is also supported, albeit not recommended.

crypto_box() takes a pointer to 32 bytes before the message, and stores the ciphertext 16 bytes after the destination pointer, the first 16 bytes being overwritten with zeros. crypto_box_open() takes a pointer to 16 bytes before the ciphertext and stores the message 32 bytes after the destination pointer, overwriting the first 32 bytes with zeros.

The _easy and _detached APIs are faster and improve usability by not requiring padding, copying or tricky pointer arithmetic.