White-box cryptography: don’t forget about grey-box attacks

Estuardo Alpirez Bock, Joppe W. Bos (Corresponding author), Chris Brzuska, Charles Hubain, Wil Michiels, Cristofaro Mune, Eloi Sanfelix Gonzalez, Philippe Teuwen, Alexander Treff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the fact that all current scientific white-box approaches of standardized cryptographic primitives have been publicly broken, these attacks require knowledge of the internal data representation used by the implementation. In practice, the level of implementation knowledge required is only attainable through significant reverse-engineering efforts. In this paper, we describe new approaches to assess the security of white-box implementations which require neither knowledge about the look-up tables used nor expensive reverse-engineering efforts. We introduce the differential computation analysis (DCA) attack which is the software counterpart of the differential power analysis attack as applied by the cryptographic hardware community. Similarly, the differential fault analysis (DFA) attack is the software counterpart of fault injection attacks on cryptographic hardware. For DCA, we developed plugins to widely available dynamic binary instrumentation (DBI) frameworks to produce software execution traces which contain information about the memory addresses being accessed. For the DFA attack, we developed modified emulators and plugins for DBI frameworks that allow injecting faults at selected moments within the execution of the encryption or decryption process as well as a framework to automate static fault injection. To illustrate the effectiveness, we show how DCA and DFA can extract the secret key from numerous publicly available non-commercial white-box implementations of standardized cryptographic algorithms. These approaches allow one to extract the secret key material from white-box implementations significantly faster and without specific knowledge of the white-box design in an automated or semi-automated manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1095-1143
Number of pages49
JournalJournal of Cryptology
Issue number4
Early online date12 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Differential computation analysis
  • Differential fault analysis
  • Differential power analysis
  • Software execution traces
  • White-box cryptography


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