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Tptacek's Review of "Practical Cryptography With Go" (githubusercontent.com)
284 points by babawere on April 16, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 250 comments

For those of you who don't know what the acronyms stand for, I've compiled a list, in order by their appearance:

  AES   - Advanced Encryption Standard
  CBC   - Cipher Block Chaining
  PKCS  - Public Key Cryptography Standards
  SHA   - Secure Hashing Algorithm
  MAC   - Message Authentication Code
  PBKDF - Password-Based Key Derivation Function
  NIST  - National Institute of Standards and Technology
  FIPS  - Federal Information Processing Standard
  KDF   - Key derivation function
  CTR   - Counter Mode
  RSA   - Rivest Shamir Adleman (last names of each creator of the RSA algorithm)
  OAEP  - Optimal Asymmetric Encryption Padding
  PSS   - Probabilistic Signature Scheme
  ECDSA - Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm
  PS3   - Playstation 3?
  DH    - Diffie-Hellman key exchange
  ECDH  - Elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman key exchange
  TLS   - Transport Layer Security

Welcome to HN. I see that you are new here so I would like to give you a little friendly advice. If you have to make a long list like this on HN use the pre/code formatting (two spaces at begining of line). Long lists like this take up a ton of space. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the a deliberate design choice so that people link to reference resources and use the comments for discussion. Compare:

AES - Advanced Encryption Standard

CBC - Cipher Block Chaining

PKCS - Public Key Cryptography Standards

SHA - Secure Hashing Algorithm

MAC - Message Authentication Code

PBKDF - Password-Based Key Derivation Function

  AES - Advanced Encryption Standard
  CBC - Cipher Block Chaining
  PKCS - Public Key Cryptography Standards
  SHA - Secure Hashing Algorithm
  MAC - Message Authentication Code
  PBKDF - Password-Based Key Derivation Function

You. I like you. Thank you! I've updated the list. I didn't see anything on the posting help page about putting two spaces in front to make it pre/code formatting. (Or maybe there was a second page I didn't look over.)

Edit: I just double-checked the help page and saw the note about code formatting. My apologies for overlooking that!

The one problem with doing this is that it causes people reading HN on an iPhone to have to scroll from side to side for every line of text, since preformatted text doesn't word-wrap on small screens.

Nice that you composed this list but quite honestly, it isn't very helpful to know what the letters in the acronyms stand for without knowing what these things actually are.

Take AES for example, "Advanced Encryption Standard" doesn't really mean anything. AES is a block cipher, also known as Rijndael. CTR and CBC are block cipher modes. RSA is a public key cryptosystem, etc. The same applies for most of these things in the list.

So if someone doesn't know what these things stand for, they're going to have to go to Wikipedia to check it out anyway, the words behind the acronym are almost as confusing as the acronyms themselves.

"Message Authentication Code" is a lot easier to google for than MAC, and more meaningful in itself too. I found the list helpful.

Yeah, but searching for the actual word is much easier than searching the acronym. Take MAC for example (tried out with german google, so your experience may vary).

I get a cosmetics site, apple.com and store.apple.com, wikipedia article about the mac adress and a clothing site. Message Authentication Code is nowhere to be found.

Yes, I took one of the harder ones, AES is on the first position, but still it is nice to know the words behind an acronym.

I think the list was helpful as well. I know quite a few of those acronyms and what hey mean, but a few I did not know.

I usually make it a habit to spell out abbreviation the first time I use them and include the abbreviation in parentheses, like Transport Layer Security (TLS). Later, after the first introduction I can safely assume people know it, like TLS.

Even for technical documents, if you expect your target audience to be familiar with the domain, nobody remembers every abbreviation every time. It also helps new readers to quickly familiarize themselves with the material (and might even help a few understand more than they would have done without expanded abbreviations).

What I have trouble with is the spelled out versions. Every time I see some stupid newspaper article that says "HyperText Markup Language" or whatever, it takes my brain two or three seconds to process it and go "oh, duh, HTML".

This hardly makes any sense:

  - for the readers who already know the abbreviation, it's a waste of space and time
  - for readers who don't, the words won't tell them much either - Transport Layer Security tells you about nothing about what TLS really is - besides, for those who are really interested, they can always look it up on Wikipedia (that way, they will actually understand it).

> Transport Layer Security tells you about nothing about what TLS really is

Doesn't it? Even a complete tech-illiterate can glean some meaning from the word "security".

And "Transport Layer" should ring a bell to anyone familiar with the OSI model (for example, a student that has taken an introductory course on network protocols).

And yet in every scientific paper I have read they still spell out the abbreviations the first time. And these are written by experts in the field. Why? Because it removes ambiguity and makes it completely clear what you are talking about. What if in 20-30 years the acronyms change or fall out of favour? It happens all the time.

As mentioned earlier in this thread, eople who don't know now have some keywords to google with.

PS3 is correct. That was a particularly amusing episode, well worth looking up the full story.

I happen to know the author of this. This was a really tough thing for him to read, but he's taking it as constructive criticism.

I would add to the people commentating here on HN: tptacek's review is tough; you do not need to lay into the author of this book any more.

It's a tough thing for anyone to read: it's browserWidth wide and monospaced.

Here's a readable version: https://gist.github.com/mikemaccana/10847077

it's browserWidth wide

I like that, because my browser window is resizable.

I don't. So is mine, but resizing it for each individual website is unnecessary work. And some websites have a legitimate need for a wider format, so you can't even say "all websites should be like this".

I think the tone is what makes it tougher than it needs to be, not the factual content. Props to the author for just looking at the content and not at the way in which it was delivered. Props to Thomas for taking the time to review the book.

You're being downvoted, but I agree that a greater amount of tact would have been warranted. Phrases like "I am not making this up", "argh!" and "huh?" add nothing to the review, but only serve to make it more personal, and I say this as a guy who also has very little tact.

There has been a cultural shift in recent years. None of tptacek's observations are adhominem. But there is now an expectation that one tone down the description of one's own reaction. I suspect this is often a conflict between the expectations of the children of helicopter parents and my generation. (1)

Sorry, but I have a right to an emotional reaction to your content and a right to describe it, especially if the reaction is grounded in objective technical reality. I suspect that younger people have this idea that online descriptions of emotional reactions are fictional and purposely crafted for effect -- mostly having to do with emotional aggression. It's true that sometimes "passion" over a subject is used as a pretext for such aggression. That doesn't mean that it's always true, however. In some cases, it's honesty.

That said, "arrrgh" reactions in a technical discipline often indicate a frustrating failure of outreach, education, or communication. I learned things from reading tptacek's review. Maybe he could supervise the ghost-writing of his own undoubtedly excellent book?

(1) - I was riding the bus and this young man had his sneakers tied to the back of his backpack, the soles of which he was pressing into my chest. I tried discretely hinting to him by pressing back, but he was oblivious, so I brought this to his attention.

I was amazed that his first priority wasn't to apologize or help me out, rather it was that I recognize that he didn't mean any harm. Be correct first, then worry about your own ego second.

I would argue that it's not as simple as

> I have a right to an emotional reaction to your content and a right to describe it, especially if the reaction is grounded in objective technical reality

... because while you have rights, being a person who participates in a civilized society means you also have responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to interact with people in ways that are appropriate to the situation.

And "appropriate to the situation" changes depending on the nature of the situation. The less serious the situation, the less appropriate a volcanic reaction becomes. Nobody's going to disapprove of you if you start screaming at an airline pilot who you see snorting coke on his way to the plane. But lots of people will disapprove of you if you lay down the same reaction on some poor kid behind the counter at McDonald's because he forgot your French fries.

In the case of this review, I would say tptacek's tone is appropriate, because security is Serious Business (as we should all know, especially after last week); getting it wrong can result in people getting robbed or even killed. So if you're going to put yourself forward as a teacher of crypto, and you're teaching people things that aren't true, you're doing real damage and should be glad a good yelling-at is the worst punishment you have to suffer. But that doesn't mean that the same tone would be appropriate if taken with the kid on the bus, because "annoyingly oblivious" is a long chalk from "could get people killed."

I never said what my tone was on the bus -- it was blunt and matter of fact. My observation was about the young man's reaction. I take exception to your post, as it suggests I said something I didn't.

My point was more about the way you leapt from tptacek's review of the crypto book to the incident on the bus, which implies that they're comparable situations, when really they're not. Not all cluelessness is equal.

> I take exception to your post

I demand satisfaction! Pistols at dawn, my good fellow! Pistols at dawn!

My point was more about the way you leapt from tptacek's review of the crypto book to the incident on the bus, which implies that they're comparable situations, when really they're not.

Ugh. My point in the previous comment -- for the second time -- is not that I'm not comparing the situations. I'm comparing the reactions. Not all cluelessness is equal, and for the second time I never said that! However, oversensitivity to criticism due to a prioritization of feelings/ego generalizes nicely across both situations.

I demand satisfaction! Pistols at dawn, my good fellow! Pistols at dawn!

I only take challenges from people with basic literacy and reading comprehension. Your comments only demonstrate the former, my good fellow. (Or, if this is the 2nd iteration of a deliberate troll through the subtle placing of words in another's mouth, I'll merely comment that I'd be a bit surprised if someone actually thinks this is clever, and note that this would disqualify a challenger though insufficient intellectual integrity.)

You're spot on with the cultural shift.

To me, complaints about tone are for critiques that contain phrases like "fucking idiot" and "worthless waste of space" and other such direct insults or attacks.

If something legitimately makes you stop and stare with your mouth hanging open, it is OK to say "this statement made me stop and stare with my mouth hanging open." Phrases like "I am not making this up" are reasonable shortcuts to expressing that sentiment.

Could Mr. Ptacek's review have been worded more kindly? Of course. Do I care? Not at all. It was nice enough. It concentrated on technical flaws rather than personal attacks. It was informative and useful. The tone was just fine.

> If something legitimately makes you stop and stare with your mouth hanging open, it is OK to say "this statement made me stop and stare with my mouth hanging open."

It's okay if you are writing a story about your personal reactions.

It's irrelevant if you are writing a serious critique, which should be about the content, not about your emotional response to it (assuming it is a critique of an informative work -- obviously, if you are critiquing something as a work of art intended to inspire emotional responses, writing about your response as some relevance.)

It's possible to blend the first kind of story with the second kind of critique, but you have to recognize the different roles of each, do it deliberately, and be exceptionally skilled (the set of people who can do this and produce something worth reading is a proper subset of the intersection of the sets of those who can write entertaining personal stories and those who can write valuable straight critiques.)

That being said, tptacek's review seems pretty focussed on substantive critique with very minimal emotional distractions, so while I disagree with the categorical defense of the individual statements at issue as being appropriate to a straight critique of an informative work, I also think that the charge that the tone was inappropriate and a barrier to reading is overblown considering the fairly minimal level at which distracting emotional descriptions are present in the review.

Sure, it's irrelevant. It adds some color, but it's unnecessary. But who cares? The complaints are not "this writing could be tighter, it wastes words on unnecessary side notes." They are, "oh my god you're hurting this poor fellow's self esteem with your tone!"

It's ironic that these critiques of this review are much dumber than the review's critiques of the book, and implicitly hold a fairly off-the-cuff internet comment to far higher standards than a published book that purports to give important and useful advice about cryptography.

Could this review be better? Sure. But who cares?

Out of curiosity, how could it have been better?

There isn't a whole lot. I think removing some of the emotional language would help. I prefer my technical articles to be a "just the facts, ma'am" and make an effort to write that way myself. I think it could also have benefitted from some additional explanation of the right way, beyond just pointing out the wrong way. For example, I would love to have seen a brief explanation of why hash functions aren't MACs, and why MAC-then-encrypt is the wrong way to do things. I already have a basic familiarity with that (at least partially from some of your previous comments), but I'm sure your explanation would at the very least help cement the ideas in my mind, and probably teach me something new.

That said, I want to point out that I think your review was excellent and it's the kind of thing I love coming across. It many ways, it reminds me of the heyday of Usenet. It's great content and it doesn't need to be better. To the extent that it can be better, it's because nearly any work can be made better with additional effort.

Personally I like the emotional language, because it lets someone slightly less familiar with the field get a sense of how bad each thing is.

A purely "just the facts" version might need a "how bad on a scale of 1-10" or something to get the same information across, and would be less readable.

This is a profound signalling problem. The people who should be most concerned that their data could "have a widespread failure of referential integrity" are sometimes the first to have their eyes glaze over at hearing about it.

That's pretty much a TL;DR of what I was saying in the post you responded to (note the last paragraph).

"I suspect this is often a conflict between the expectations of the children of helicopter parents and my generation."

At 49, I see the exact opposite. Members of my generation tended to exhibit more tact and decorum. The urge to dress like a hobo, swear all the time, and flame everyone in sight is a classic overcompensation for years of helicopter parenting which forbade all of these things.

"In some cases, it's honesty."

In others, it's honesty used as a pretext for acting out.

In others, it's honesty used as a pretext for acting out.

Note I also make this observation.

Also note that I am specifically pointing out reactions to criticism. The other changes in decorum have been noted by previous generations since at least the 1800s. Waltzing was once a lascivious corrosive to society's morals.

Also: we are likely less than 4 years apart in age. I could do with more decorum, as I've been learning over the past 4 years.

I hear you. At the beginning of my career, I always used to be the most offensive person in the room - and I could afford to be, because nobody cared what I thought. Nowadays there are always five people in the room who are more offensive than me, but that won't stop them from complaining if the big bad ogre (me) hurts their feelings. Kids nowadays. ;)

Amost all aggressive reactions are partly contrived and controlled, even if they're occasioned by genuine emotion in the actor. You can see this from the fact that you very rarely see someone give a strongly hostile or contemptuous emotional reaction to their boss or someone else whose reaction they fear. Somehow the guys who just have strong feelings, or just have to tell it like it is, manage to tell it in a much more circumspect manner, or not at all, when letting fly would have unpleasant consequences for them rather than whoever they're going at.

Almost all aggressive reactions are partly contrived and controlled, even if they're occasioned by genuine emotion in the actor. You can see this from the fact that you very rarely see someone give a strongly hostile or contemptuous emotional reaction to their boss or someone else whose reaction they fear.

This is presuming that such fear is always the input to a conscious decision. That doesn't fit my observations of human nature. Power relationships always have some bearing on the nature of an interaction, so what you're saying is comparable to telling an aquatic species that they're wet.

Also, going by what you say, you should have more respect for those who tell truth to power, or tell their more famous/more highly regarded colleagues the plain truth. Perhaps tptacek should be more humble because he's more famous, but if it comes to the choice of him being frustrated by widespread crypto cluelessness or by a desire to dominate others, I think the former makes far more sense.

Merely upvoting isn't enough. Online bullies are cowards at heart, and it's good to be reminded of that, so thanks.

Regarding the shoes: making it clear to you that he did not mean any harm is a way of apologizing and defusing a potentially explosive situation. I hesitate to read too much into it.

Regarding tptacek, I suspect that if he had sent this to the author, or posted it as a formal review, I suspect he would have toned down the description of his reactions. I'm not sure where this review came from, but my impression is that he did not think of it as a published review that the author would see. Certainly doing such would be advisable, as people are more receptive to criticism that way.

Perhaps I am wrong regarding how tptacek would have responded had he known the review would be, essentially, published. But I know I phrase things differently in such situations.

making it clear to you that he did not mean any harm is a way of apologizing

A better way of apologizing is actually apologizing. The young man's reaction was more like exasperation that I should have been put out.

My impression is that the comment was/is a comment on social media. My comment was written in that context.

I don't know, I have problems with these things. I never know who's wrong, should the author not take it personally, or should the reviewer be tactful? I guess both.

Why hurt someone when you can avoid it?

I have a personal problem with ASN.1, and with authenticate- then- obliviously- decrypt. I don't know the author of this book at all and reject the implication that the review had a personalized tone.

Having said that: had I written the "review" as an actual "review", and not as an oversized HN comment that I had to make a Gist out of to get it onto the site, I would have written it more carefully.

I'm not saying the review was personal, it's pretty clear that you're only talking about the facts. It's just that there are phrases that have a lower "hurt-to-information" numerator with the same denominator.

I disagree: the exact turns-of-phrase that can sting also include important signalling, to other readers, of the relative importance of different points, in a way that's hard to do otherwise in prose. (In person, vocal tone and face/body language would convey these same shades of emphasis.)

As long as criticism doesn't cross the "bright lines" of ad hominem or gratuitous ridicule, as a third party reader, I much prefer the targets toughen up, rather than the critics soften their language. And there are way more third-party readers than critics or their targets.

Personally, I feel the difference is in the writing style for the medium. For instance, while a critic might remark on how 'this is such a poor recommendation that it should inspire outrage in a security-conscious developer', someone writing a comment on the Internet may use 'this makes me feel like screaming'. The language is less 'refined' and seemingly more direct though it's really saying the same (appropriate for the medium).

My hypothesis is that people expect text that has no obvious signs of being an Internet comment to use the more 'serious' language and this case (an Internet comment that is a bit longer than usual) is being classified wrongly as a result.

Yes, I think this is something that his happening here. It's at least partially my fault, because once I had to pull the review into Gist, it was easy to post it on Twitter too, and so it took on a life I hadn't anticipated for it.

I don't think you're at fault for anything. There's nothing inappropriate in your review.

It's ridiculous to simultaneously say that a piece of writing devoid of context is being classified in a certain way and to say that it contains that's inappropriate for that classification.

The mere presence of phrases like "I am not making this up" tells you that this piece is not intended to be too serious. To say that it's intended seriously but contains non-serious language is a flat-out contradiction.

It could make sense if it was published in some context, like a serious blog or a news site or something, which implied seriousness. But it's a naked text file on the internet. It doesn't have to take a serious tone.

I agree. Sometimes, the frustration also builds up if someone is witnessing a trend of nonsense, and he reads yet another thing following that trend, which triggers the writing of a rant.

That said, it's funny that most these rants aren't ad hominem, unlike some of the "formatted" vitriol which attacks you without really seeming to do so.

Someone should watch EEVBLOG on Youtube, Dave Jones does reviews and teardowns of electronics.

There was a rant over PICKit3 where he voiced his frustrations with the new device (that wasn't better than the old one, and took out nice features, replaced things that worked perfectly with things that were sort of dumb) which triggered Microchip to answer with a funny video their own.

Your tale about the boy ... Arrrghh ! I don't want to go off topic, but man, I think nothing gets diluted more than values each year.. Well, except shares of a startup once VC's get in.

Or as my 4th grade teacher used to say "Don't be sorry, be right".

Your comment actually made me read the review since it seemed really bad... but after reading it I'm just not seeing the problem.

The "I am not making this up" thing came in the context of recommending ASN.1 for instance. If that were a chess match commentary, this is where the scorekeeper would have put a "??" after the move to note the shock.

And note what tptacek's comment was not: It wasn't a bunch of personal attacks, or swearing. Some of the commentary was "more than professional", to be sure, but that's exactly the kind of commentary you should hope to get in highly-demanding, highly-selective fields.

You want to know what a perfect book review would look like in the Navy's nuclear propulsion program? It would be this: "No deficiencies noted."

I don't think either jacquesmattheij or me said this was really bad, he just said that the tone could be better and I agree. I think people are reading things into our comments.

I agree that it wasn't especially bad, it could just be worded a bit better to spare feelings.

"I am not making this up" is a succinct way to say "this was a really stupid string for the book to contain".

Tptacek could have chosen to say that differently, but it does add value as written. I have no idea what ASN.1 is; simply telling me that the book contains that string doesn't mean anything to me. Telling me that it was a stupid thing to say doesn't teach me about ASN.1 or crypto, but it does teach me about the book.

Sure, but there's a difference between "this book is really bad, it contains errors and wrong advice, I would advise against it and avoid it" and "goddamn this is literally the stupidest book that has ever been written". They convey the same amount of information, but the author's feelings are not hurt equally.

This book doesn't come within an astronomical unit of being the worst book on cryptography I've read; _Applied Cryptography_ is far worse. Which is why I didn't write anything like "goddamn this is literally the stupidest book that has ever been written".

Sorry, I have a habit of not clarifying enough. I'm not saying you said that, I'm just pointing out that one can say the same thing more innocuously if one is a bit more dry/factual.

Being totally dry/factual could mean that people don't read it and goes all TL;DR.

This condescending tone seems to be mandatory for karmic users of over 100K points :)

There must be an integer overflow somewhere.

That comment needed a ;) —it possibly comes across as much more serious and even hostile than it was meant to be.

Well tell him that's a great reaction to have in that situation. I find it mature and I wish more people would act that way.

It's unfortunate that it was too big for an HN comment, which would probably have prevented it being posted again as a topic. People who are genuinely interested in the book could have searched HN and found the original review. This thread just exists to bash/watch further bashing of the author/book.

This is an incisive criticism, but it's extremely educational in its own right. I would not have read it otherwise.

When working through basic knowledge to mastery of a topic, attempting to teach someone else is an extremely effective way to organize your thoughts and learn yourself. This is why graduate students teach undergraduate students.

The author of the original book shouldn't feel shame for making the mistake of working toward mastery of the topic. But racing to publish is dangerous when the topic is as serious as (heart surgery or) cryptography. A stern warning is worth repeating.

It's fortunate that it was posted again as a topic, as I didn't see the original comment thread and wouldn't have read this review otherwise, and I learned things from it.

Agreed. I don't often flag submissions but I'll be flagging this one.

Most of us already read the review anyway.

I have faith the next edition of the book will withstand tptacek's criticism much better.

How many books has he authored? This is very valuable data, and he stands to make an even better book even if all he does is change diffie hellman to appease tptacek and perhaps other readers.

DISCLAIMER: i know and have worked with kyle (the author).

while the factual content of tptacek's review may be spot on, his overall tone is very negative and smacks of "only experts allowed" logic. while he could have easily helped improve kyle's book and shared these comments privately, he instead chose to lambast kyle publicly, which doesn't really help anybody: tptacek looks like a total jerk and kyle now has a lot of negative attention on (this version of) his book.

this pervasive "experts only" attitude is a big part of why "secure" open source projects have hard times getting and keeping contributors. it is par for the course for people to be super rude and negative to new participants instead of trying to encourage them to improve and learn. this lack of contributors then has a whole array of negative secondary effects, like less people reading the code for the project.

The "experts only" attitude is because, well, as we've seen with HeartBleed, this is VerySeriousStuff.

If the author instead put together a book on how a layperson could perform open-heart surgery, you're damn right that actual surgeons would jump all over it.

There is some strange pervasive attitude/arrogance in tech that all it takes to be good at something is to be smart and give it a try. Why learn the theory/fundamentals when you can just start coding?

For building a web app, sure. But security is not one of those things. You actually need to learn the fundamentals and theory, and even then, need lots of experience.

That's a very weird lesson to learn from the heartbleed bug. What I learned is cryptography experts should be consulted on matters of math and ignored on matters of software. Any non-zero application of software development best practices would have prevented the heartbleed flaw, including:

1: Don't implement features you don't need. Nobody needs TLS heartbeat. Nobody. Don't implement it until you have a use case and the calling code in hand.

2: Test the features you do implement. What happens if this field is the minimum? The maximum? A power of 2? A power of 2, less 1? Negative when treated as signed?

You know what else is hard? Writing a book on cryptography. It's all very well and good to point out problems, but there are probably more productive ways to teach people than simply point out what not to do.

When you are writing about a difficult subject, you should invite reviews from experts to vet your work.

I'm not disagreeing. I'm just pointing out that a critic is much less useful than an author.

That depends entirely on what type of book is being wrote. If I write a history textbook that goes into intricate detail about the Time Slip of 1662 and the Lost Years, and the eventual Realignment that resulted in the Great London Fire, am I being more useful than a critic who points out that my history textbook is full of factual inaccuracies?

If I wrote a book on brain surgery, the critics would be much more useful than the author.

I'll take one responsible author with one harsh-but-knowledgeable critic over a hundred would-be authors without the ability to sift useful content from polemic criticism.

Well, I'll take the one responsible author now. Who are they?

I understand where you're coming from, but the author is the one who put this out in public. Publishing a book like this sends a strong message of "I am an expert, take what is written here as fact".

Maybe the tone could have been a little softer, but this should not have been done privately. The criticism of the work needs to be just as public as the work itself, so that people who might have been misled have a chance to see why.

Publishing a book like this sends a strong message of "I am an expert, take what is written here as fact".

And we, of the Internet age, should be shocked to learn this is no longer true! Eric Drexler once proposed that hypertext would save the world by allowing such peer review. Just what are we collectively missing when it comes to crypto?

It could have been couched like responsible disclosure where The Author got a 1 week grace period and worked with tptacek on getting a responsible message out.

The point of responsible disclosure is that it limits the damage done to users of the system in question by reducing the window in which the flaw is known and the systems are unpatched.

That doesn't apply for a book. Keeping the critique private for a week doesn't help the readers at all. In fact it harms them by keeping incorrect information in play and uncorrected for longer. Perhaps it softens the blow to the author's ego, but that is not at all what "responsible disclosure" is about. Helping out misinformed readers takes precedence over the author.

I agree with all your points. When I said treat this in a "responsible disclosure" method, I did really mean a grace period, for the authors sake[0]. Clearly the reasoning is not the same as a security issue, as you pointed out. I was trying to be a bit clever. My mistake.

That all said, I still think we can treat each other better. Honest question: was it necessary to destroy it in such detail? Was it necessary for the effort of attack on the "crypto box" front? It seemed personal.

[0] Contacting the author first doesn't necessarily preclude timely notice "this book is flawed" out to readers.

Yes, of the criticisms in that review, I think the "Crypto Box" one was among the most useful. He can fix that problem simply by renaming his library. The problem with calling it that is that there's also a library that provides a very carefully designed crypto_box: NaCl. NaCl was designed by someone who is simultaneously one of the world's best software security people and one of the best cryptographers. Repurposing the name like that is a little like a guy named Alan writing his own cipher and calling it "Alan's Encryption System".

What do you mean, "was it necessary to destroy it in such detail"?

If tptacek hadn't destroyed it in such detail, his review would have consisted of saying "Hey, this book is pretty bad; it's got some very serious issues, and makes some pretty terrible or misleading recommendations. My suggestion: do not read it".

Would that be better? Or would you be complaining that "Well geeze, it's not helpful to say that the book isn't good; you have to go into some detail about what the problems are so that everybody can learn!"

The idea of asking for LESS DETAIL in a criticism of a topic is bizarre. How much detail would you prefer?

While this is a valid course of action, I still feel it's up to an author to use due diligence in both researching the material, and seeking out expert advice before publishing.

Publicly discussing the flaws of a technical book actually helps a lot of people. I don't understand how it could possibly be better to have kept these comments private. By making them public, there are people who would have taken this bad advice who now know that it's bad advice. That makes us all more secure.

I really truly cannot understand the critique of an "experts only" attitude when it comes to technical books that make important recommendations for building critical systems. By all means, non-experts should experiment and build and learn. But non-experts definitely should not be giving out large quantities of advice in an authoritative tone.

> he instead chose to lambast kyle publicly, which doesn't really help anybody

It helps people who might have read the book and learned to do things the wrong way.

We can model this as "Kyle has disseminated harmful material, and tptacek is trying to contain the damage". Kyle's feelings, intentions, and hard work aren't irrelevant; but they're not what we should be focusing on.

Open source security projects have a hard time getting and keeping contributors because the expertise for this particular kind of work is difficult to develop.

Publishing a book like this sends a strong public signal of deep expertise.

I have not found tptacek to be overly rude or negative when offering advice to journeyman cryptologists. But a journeyperson should not necessarily be publicizing their how-to guides yet.

I'm sure the author is a nice guy. It is hard to put yourself out there like he has done. That said, when you put your name on something and put it in the public space, you have to be prepared for people to write these kinds of things. Furthermore, I think tptacek's blunt and at times snarky style is necessary to make his point. It is extremely hard to write clear critiques that don't sound harsh while at the same time clearly conveying the gravity of the situation. In short, tptacek can't afford the risk that softening his natural style means a major point will be missed. It's a bit like the old quote, "Sorry this letter is so long, I didn't have the time to make it short.". Politeness is a luxury one can't really afford when a book that has factual errors is already out there (and to be clear, I'm not qualified to assess whether this is true, I'm just speaking about the approach here). It is far better to write precisely what you're really thinking, than to couch it in all sorts equivocation and self-censorship.

Academic researchers get these kinds of critiques of their publications all the time. It's extremely useful to the whole academic process despite being infuriating and depressing. That said, most of those critiques happen before publication and in private. But as a book author, that's something one can control. If I were writing a book like this, my #1 worry would be that I was making claims or errors that would be held up on HN by folks like tptacek as evidence of my incompetence. I would therefore made it the highest priority to approach the most likely people to have an opinion to get them to review my draft ahead of publication. That's what people writing serious publications that have real world consequences do. Make no mistake: crypto is in this category. It's not like writing "The 4-hour Work Week", "Web Design for Programmers", or "JavaScript for Aspiring Ninjas".

If you're writing a book on a serious topic like security, you are presenting yourself as an expert and need to be able to stand up to the criticism. It goes with the territory.

It's good to stick up for people. It's less good to be thin-skinned on someone else's behalf.

Here, your attitude causes two problems.

First, you know and apparently like Kyle Isom, and so I presume you're also ready to tell me that he's an adult and a professional. Professionals do one of three things with criticism: ignore it, rebut it, or learn from it. My assumption has been that Kyle is choosing options (1) and (3) from that list. But here you are, inventing option (4): "get indignant about it". I wonder if you've thought about the extent to which people will attribute that response not to you, but to Isom.

Second, whatever you might think about the tone of my feedback, it's clear that Isom needs additional technical review for his book. Whipping up a totally unproductive us-versus-them narrative about "jerks" versus "open source" does the opposite: it generates drama. Even if you think my review was itself dramatic, piling more drama on doesn't make Isom's work more attractive to experts.

I'm not sure how big of a deal either of these issues are, but they're a bad habit for message board denizens. The exact same thing happened to Willem when he wrote his critique of the Akamai allocator, and Hacker News had a totally unproductive drama storm for a couple hours before Akamai (a) thanked Willem and (b) acknowledged that he was absolutely correct. Read the Akamai comments on the HN thread, and apply them here, substituting "Kyle Isom" for "Akamai", and I think you'll see that they apply.

Finally, I'll admit to being personally irritated by the claim that I operate from "experts only" logic with regards to cryptography. There are at last count something like twelve thousand people who have reached out to us for our free crypto challenges, and thousands of those people have gone on to solve multiple sets of challenges (something like 60 people have finished the first 6). Every damn one of those people is an email exchange that me, Sean, or Marcin had to have directly, on our own time, with no compensation --- the opposite of compensation, in fact, because we donate to charity when people finish them.

There are a lot of people on the Internet to whom you could direct the "experts only elitism" criticism regarding crypto. I am not one of them.

What's more annoying about that bogus critique is how it muddles a real issue. I'd like many more people to understand crypto and, particularly, what goes wrong when it's implemented naively. But I'd like far fewer people to plow ahead and implement their own broken stuff. The track record on amateur cryptography is bad, and what developers don't like to acknowledge is that the badness that work generates is an externality to them. People have in the real world been hurt, physically, because of broken amateur crypto. It is hard for me to take the hurt feelings of developers all that seriously by comparison.

Isom should thank tptacek for providing thousands of dollars in free consulting/editing work. He'll probably be a better engineer because of this feedback and the next edition of his book should be a lot better.

Isom doesn't owe me anything, but the notion that he might arises straightforwardly from the factionalizing that follows ginned-up outrage, which is point #2 I was trying to make above.

Ironically, you yourself are choosing more 4 than 2 in response to someone's criticism of your criticism.

I made 3 straightforward points in my comment. Do you disagree with any of them? If not, let's just agree to disagree.

I disagree with your condemnation of a behavior while exhibiting said behavior. It shows that you're okay with drama so long as it's you creating it, but you're not okay with a dramatic response to your own drama-creating.

The accusation of elitism on your part is not a new one, I don't think, to you - I found myself levying the same accusation when you decided to single out the CryptoCat project as a distinctly "bad" project, due to the number of issues that came up during the most recent security review, despite the fact that it's one of a very select group of open source projects even undergoing such reviews.

You say things like, "amateur cryptography" when it makes little to no sense. This book wasn't written for free, it was actually professional crypto, even if it had fundamental problems; it's bad crypto, not amateur crypto. When you do things like that, it comes off as elitism, whether or not you're intending it to.

I think Cryptocat illustrates and affirms the points I'm making about amateur cryptography, and doesn't rebut them.

Yes, because amateur projects generally undergo third party security reviews.

I disagree, but I'm also not interested in discussing Cryptocat on this thread, and I don't think you'd be doing Kyle Isom any favors by pushing the comparison further.

I'm just getting sick and tired of people in the crypto community dismissing projects because they're not done by one of the "ordained few".

Your criticisms of the book are indeed valid, but the obvious derision you apply when calling professional efforts such as this book and Cryptocat "amateur" is precisely the kind of behavior and attitude that keeps the state of crypto so backwards and slow, and is exactly the kind of drama you (correctly) lambasted earlier in this comment chain.

Reread the original comment to which you're effectively replying for what I think is a complete rebuttal to this comment, and, again, let me remind you that your comparison of Cryptocat and this book is unfavorable to the book's author.

I know you think it's unfavorable to compare the two, but that's the entire problem.

Your assertion that tptacek's review doesn't really help anybody is patently false. It helped me by preventing me from making the mistake of purchasing this book.

I firmly believe that you shouldn't author a book in something if you lack the appropriate expertise. If you do so, you risk disseminating misinformation at scale, causing enormous harm.

Sometimes expertise is actually required.

"this pervasive "experts only" attitude is a big part of why "secure" open source projects have hard times getting and keeping contributors. "


Not to mention the need to have to filter through all the BS criticism. I've read people arguing that there was no issue in having the e in RSA (the public exponent) equals to 1. Really.

You read that when SaltStack managed to set e=1 in their SSH replacement protocol, and what you read was SaltStack and its defenders arguing that the mistake wasn't as calamitous as it actually was. And you probably read about it because people like Coda Hale (and, yes, me) pointed it out on Twitter.

It eludes me how you turn someone's terrible custom crypto into a parable about how we should be nicer to custom crypto.

Wow...e=1? That makes me feel better about my biggest crypto goof, which I had assumed was the stupidest mistake anyone had ever made with RSA, but e=1 is worse.

Briefly, I was doing a single RSA encryption on the client and corresponding RSA decryption on the server as part of a login procedure, and using e=3 (which, at the time, was considered acceptable by most experts). Due to licensing issues the client code had to be all ours, so I was using an old arbitrary precision integer library I had written years before. It was not super fast. The multiplication wasn't too bad (Karatsuba), but division was the classical division algorithm. On the server there were no licensing issues, and I was using gmp.

So I had this "brilliant" realization. Why not do the division ON THE SERVER? The client could simply compute M^3 and send that to the server. The message would be 3 times longer but bandwidth was cheap. The server could then do the modular reduction.

I quickly made the change to the client and then started to revise the server code, when it occurred to me that since the client had made no use whatsoever of the modulus there must be a way to decrypt the message without using the modulus--like by just taking the cube root. Doh!

Yes, that actually happened:


There's an interesting real-world RSA bug related to yours: in the absence of proper padding, it's possible that e=3 RSA of a small plaintext might not wrap the modulus. A similar cube root operation produces a signature that naive implementations (the ones that check the digest embedded in a signature block, but not the padding) will validate, despite the attacker lacking the signing key. That bug bit Firefox's NSS library; for a little while, it was possible to use a short Python script to forge any certificate.

(That bug is due to Bleichenbacher, who called it a "pencil-and-paper" attack in the rump session he presented it in).

e=3 RSA isn't insecure per se, but it does magnify the impact of other vulnerabilities, and so it's best avoided.

As my literal not-making-this-up favorite HN commenter and someone who has previously expressed an interest in crypto, I'd love it if sometime you could take some time to demolish our crypto challenges. I'd be happy to send them all at once to you.

I have signed up for the first set of challenges, although I doubt I'll do well on them. I'm not very good at that kind of challenge--with crypto I tend to do better on the theory side [1] than on the practical side when it comes to dealing with breaking things.

[1] by "theory" I mean vigorous and convincing hand waving and white board diagramming...

If I had written a book on implementing cryptography in Golang, I assure you that someone else would have reviewed it harshly too. It's simply a difficult subject to get right.

If I had written a book on implementing cryptography

I've been throwing $20 bills at my monitor so that your book will start downloading, but it doesn't seem to be working.

But really, you should write one.

No, I'm not even close to qualified to write that book.

Isn't this the problem, then? People here seem to think you are, and by reading you I get the impression that they're right. I don't believe that you won't write a book because you're not qualified: you just don't want to write one. And that's a good enough reason.

I think the community in general is very harsh towards anything related to cryptography. It's as if you shouldn't bother writing code unless you have mastery of the underlying mathematics while at the same time not bother with the maths unless you're an expert very-low-level-language programmer.

There is certainly a need to put forward blatant errors and potential flaws. But the general harshness is misguided I think. Tptacek, you simply said out loud what many thought, I'm sure. You'd make a lot of people happy if you wrote a book. Because you're still learning doesn't mean others can't learn from you.

Very subtly broken cryptography software is better than no cryptography software. And together we will learn to make it better.

I don't know how to say this other than directly: you're wrong. I shouldn't write a book on how to design cryptosystems, because I'm not qualified to do it, and I'll get things wrong. I can barely write an HN comment on crypto without being corrected by 'pbsd and 'cperciva.

I am an odd duck, even for my odd little field: I'm a software security person who has spent a couple years getting decent at breaking crypto, and (weirdly) few people in my field do that, so I sound like more of an expert than I actually am.

I am an odd duck, even for my odd little field: I'm a software security person who has spent a couple years getting decent at breaking crypto, and (weirdly) few people in my field do that, so I sound like more of an expert than I actually am.

Interesting. When I worked at Entrust, our cryptology team consisted of both cryptographers and cryptanalysts. The former were math PhDs who spent their entire graduate careers designing cryptosystems, so by the time they came to us, they knew what they were about. The latter - well, there was only one when we got started - was a B.Eng. who got interested in crypto at BNR, taught himself the basics, and became one of the top cryptanalysts in the world.

You and he probably have much in common - including not being qualified to design cryptosystems! Like you, he would have said to leave that to the experts.

Then he would have quite happily spent weeks and months figuring out what those experts missed, thereby advancing the field.

It puzzles me to this day that so few in the security field appreciate the difference between the two types of cryptologists.

Maybe I was not clear. I'm not forcing you to write a book, nor saying you absolutely should.

My point is that if people like you, who are definitely more knowledgable than most in this area (most is very important here), communicate their experience, then everyone benefits. If nobody wants to write about crypto because nobody feels qualified, we're at a dead end.

When a person does write content, someone somewhere will tear it apart, for pretty good reasons: getting it right is very difficult, as you say. But that's precisely the point: to learn from our mistakes. We're not dealing with raw science, but real life implementations of theory, and this is where things usually break, as shown by your critique. The value of the book is pedagogical, not necessarily scientific.

If you have anything to say about crypto (and you clearly do), then say it. We're all the better for it! And contributions like the ones you gave here are needed. I just find the general attitude a little tiring, I'm not trying to force you into writing :)

Lastly, the most important thing, to me, is that I, as a chemist, can get on the internet and learn about these concepts from someone who understands them better than I do. Having a discussion about such topics is essential. Your contribution might not be in the deep theorems of academic cryptography, but they sure are appreciated by others like me. So if you ever want to write a book/pamphlet, go ahead, I'll buy it.

I understand. I'm making a distinction you don't care about, between books about designing crypto and books about breaking crypto. We're working on a book (it would be more accurate to say that I am cheerleading Sean and Alex on to write a book). It's just not a book that would teach developers how to build crypto.

You trumpet NaCl's crypto_box and mentioned other language runtimes are deficient in one way or another, but what do you think about security of crypto in the Java standard library?

The JCA provides primitives, not whole designs. Primitives are rarely broken; even PHP mcrypt manages to successfully provide low-level crypto primitives. Most of the things that go wrong in cryptography happen at the points where two primitives join to form a more elaborate construction. The JCA isn't much help there.

If you have the option to use NaCl, use NaCl. A Java-specific alternative to NaCl is Keyczar.

Speaking of Java crypto, I have a question. Is it possible a garbage collector might be dangerous to crypto code? I've seen it mentioned on HN that maybe we should be worried about implementing crypto code in a language with a non-deterministic GC, but sadly I can't find those comments right now.

TextSecure's crypto is implemented in Java, which is of course garbage collected. Some cursory Googling suggests that Java's GC will suspend the main execution thread during each GC op: http://javabook.compuware.com/content/memory/reduce-garbage-...

I'm guessing the concern is that an attacker might somehow discover a way to use the GC to recover sensitive info. It seems like having a GC might cause some other trouble, like making it hard to wipe sensitive data from memory once it's no longer needed: http://books.google.com/books?id=43pcI3in1DcC&pg=PA122&lpg=P...

Since TextSecure is currently believed to be secure and high-quality, then it must be true GCs aren't fundamentally dangerous to crypto code, right? (Or at least that Java's GC on Android isn't dangerous to crypto.) If a GC is dangerous to crypto code, then TextSecure would be vulnerable to those dangers.

Do you happen to know whether cryptographers as of 2014 generally believe GCs are/aren't/might be dangerous to crypto code? Are there any known attack vectors or proofs of concept? (It would be awesome if anyone could point out any whitepapers on the subject.)

I don't buy the argument about GC being a hindrance. If you have sensitive data (e.g. a key) that you don't want sitting around in your process memory, you should wipe it as soon as you are done with it (e.g. zero out the byte array). Just because there is a GC doesn't mean that it's the only way to clean up a resource. String is immutable in both Java and C#, so if you are holding a password in an instance of one it can be difficult to overwrite the backing memory, but this is a separate argument from GC causing problems. This is the problem that SecureString is meant to solve http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.security.secu....

Regarding GC performance, maybe there's an avenue for attack there. You could potentially infer the amount of garbage being generated by an implementation, which seems like it could be variable in a PK implementation. I can't really think of a way to generate variable amounts of garbage without doing variable amounts of computation, so I think you're already leaking timing information. [Actually I can, but not in a way that seems natural].

"Some cursory Googling suggests that Java's GC will suspend the main execution thread during each GC op"

The (non-default) CMS and G1 GCs will do as much as they can in background threads before they have to stop the world. For more information see http://www.oracle.com/webfolder/technetwork/tutorials/obe/ja... and http://www.cubrid.org/blog/dev-platform/understanding-java-g.... I only know about this because I kept encountering long, GC-related pauses on my Minecraft server that went away when I switched to the concurrent mark-sweep collector. :)

I think that the concern crypto engineers have with garbage collected runtimes is held in tension by the equal and opposite force of their concern about memory corruption bugs in C. It's a concern, but an inchoate concern.

Typed a whole long comment about the relevant section of Cryptography Engineering, but it seems you already read it :) I'd also be interested in an in-depth study of GC's effect on secret material.

I suspect that constant factor memory usage should go hand in hand with the criticality of constant factor cpu usage.

If a constant time cpu algorithm was not also constant factor memory, then the timing of cache misses (or gc, alike) would certainly be subject to side channel attacks.

If constant factor memory usage is attained, I cannot easily think of a way that a garbage collector could cause an interference that leaks information. (Though by all means, one ought think harder than I have.)

In my opinion having sensitive keys in Java, or pretty much any software stack, is not the correct way to go.

We should turn to hardware solutions for access to raw keys. Let the software stacks do what they do well, which is accelerate users and engineers.

This might help:

> I reviewed several SSL implementations for coding style: OpenSSL, NSS, GnuTLS, JSSE, Botan, MatrixSSL and PolarSSL. I looked at how buffers are handled in parsers and writers. Of all of them, I think only JSSE, i.e. pure Java, can be trusted to be free of buffer overflows. It suggests that a good webserver for security-critical applications would be Tomcat, without native extensions.


Most of your review seemed to be utilitarian and useful for a second edition. That is awesome, the way you structured it means the author could use a ton of it, and it gives readers specific things to be aware of. Sincere thanks for that.

That said, you first point seemed silly. Simplified, partial and building block examples are used in almost all fields to facilitate teaching (including among medical students and surgeons). They are useful because they keep people moving along the process, teaching them terms, skills and concepts they will need to get to the next step in the process.

What is your alternative method for teaching someone unfamiliar with these concepts in a way that won't just put them out to sea without a paddle?

The author doesn't demand that his readers implement AES or SHA2 directly. So, what I would do is start with a simple, secure design based on an AEAD like AES-GCM, which is also in the Golang standard library. I would accompany that design with very strong warnings that substituting AES-GCM for anything else is likely to destroy the security of the design. Then, when I wanted to teach about generically composed MACs, my HMAC example would involve replacing AES-GCM with AES-CTR+HMAC. At no point in the book would the focus of one of my chapters be a design that was dreadfully insecure.

I would also divide the book into two parts, the "easy" part and the "hard" part. The "easy" part would get readers to the point where they can safely use TLS, reliably PGP-encrypt something, hash a password, and invoke NaCl (which is part of the go.crypto package). I would probably spend a whole chapter on how to use Golang's TLS library, for instance. Most readers that are picking the book up so they can solve some business problem would probably never need to get past the "easy" part, and I would encourage them not to.

I would remove from the "hard" half of the book protocols that were insecure. An unauthenticated DH exchange is a poor basis for a cryptographic transport. Slash, cut, gone. A naive password challenge-response protocol doesn't solve anyone's business problems. Slice, snip, gone. In their place, I'd probably add more discussion of key exchange algorithms, with particular attention paid to how easy they are to get wrong.

> I would accompany that design with very strong warnings that substituting AES-GCM for anything else is likely to destroy the security of the design.

IMO, it's exactly this kind of strong advice early on that would be of great benefit would-be crypto developers. They need it drilled in as early as possible that the canyon-like pitfalls lie in the compositional problems of building a working cryptosystem. This is really a domain where just-ship-it cowboy coding becomes a massive liability.

I would buy that book in a heartbeat, no matter what language it was written for.

It's not specific to cryptography. There is a hierarchy in all fields:

1. Top researchers come up with algorithms and techniques

  - The research corpus reviews them
2. Top programmers implements these techniques

  - The programmers communities review them
3. Top engineers write books to explain these techniques

  - which everybody else relies on in their tools
1 knows more than 2 which knows more than 3. But each group needs the two others, and the rest of the worlds needs all of them. People who write books are rarely the same people who come up with cryptographic breakthrough. Instead, they are engineers, and they can use a bit of help to get things right.

Your review was harsh, because you know more. What, I think, was missing from it is a bit of "This is a great first step, let me help you make it better so we can move everybody else forward. Here are my comments."

When you see someone repeatedly walking up the down escalator you don't give them an attaboy when they reach the top. You tell them to use the right escalator.

How can publishing a book purporting to be the way to do security be considered a first step? A first step would be to get some feed back from experts prior to publishing. This is the real world where this information is critical to our future, not something to be taken lightly. On a human level I have some sympathy for the writer but professionally I think Tptacek's response is completely acceptable and am glad I read it.

A short time ago in the information critical real world someone was quietly exploiting the bug that would become CVE-2014-0160 (heartbleed). Today your iphone uses really bad software [0]. Today it is easy to be a critic. As for Tp*'s professionalism, can you figure out if he wants the world to improve or stay the same?

[0] http://www.osnews.com/story/27416/The_second_operating_syste...

Perhaps blogs are better for testing ideas than books?

While reading your review, one of the main criticisms seems to be that the it's not made sufficiently clear that the code as written is insecure.

In keeping with the philosophy of being hands on; would the book be improved if after introducing the code in the first section, have the reader implement an exploit for the same code?

I feel comfortable with the idea of writing a book showing people how to break badly-implemented crypto designs, so much so that Sean, Alex, and I are in fact writing that book; it'll be a "pay-what-you-want" directly to a preferred charity. If anyone can point us to someone who will take our money to expertly typeset a giant text file, that would be helpful.

I do not feel remotely comfortable with the idea of writing a book containing prescriptions on how to design a cryptosystem. We're wary of doing that even for our clients, where we know all of the context and the threat model that the proposed system would face, and who will actually build it, and that we'll get paid to review the resulting implementation. I don't know how to solve that problem for strangers.

Other people do. They are much better than I am. When Trevor and Moxie write the book on why they chose the TextSecure primitives that they chose, I'll be first in line to buy.

Any chance of just releasing it as big .txt balls, MaTaSaNo_Crypto_2_of_7.txt , with glorious ascii art at the top?

You know, for old times' sake?

We have a different funny plan for releasing it. :)

Deface different websites with chapters of the book? Each chapter being about a defect in crypto implementation that allowed you to deface that particular website.

I'd love to chat with you about your book.

Thanks, but we're actively avoiding publishers.

Is your book also based on golang crypto lib ?


From tptacek's comment, it sounds like the author of the book may just be an inexperienced practitioner of cryptography who's only crime is to be too eager to spread what they've learned.

Someone who picked up the basics from a few Wikipedia articles here, a few papers there, a couple open source projects here and there... they're smart, so they're not completely clueless about the field, but they just don't have the experience to see where they fall short, the industry know-how, and so on.

I feel like instances of this in the tech community are not too rare, and it's a consequence of the internet: anyone can publish a book and distribute it all over the world now. It's worth keeping in mind that while harm is being done through the spread of false information, what's most important is to educate them, see this as a teachable moment, so they can become productive experts and modify their message to be fully correct. Of course, it requires them to be open minded of their shortcomings: but it can be done.

PS: I have no clue who the author of Practical Cryptography With Go is.

An "inexperienced practitioner of cryptography" should not be writing a book about cryptography. It's great that such a person is learning, but you shouldn't be trying to pass on such information at that stage.

(I don't know the author either)

Remember that being wrong about something feels exactly the same as being right about something, so (extending "being wrong" to "being ignorant") unless somebody tells them they won't know they still have stuff to learn.

>Remember that being wrong about something feels exactly the same as being right about something

Not if you extend being wrong to being ignorant, no. When you're right about something in the sense of not being ignorant, you understand all the discussions and news easily, you know exactly what everyone is talking about, including reading academic articles on the subject, etc. When you're wrong about something your wrongness butts up against the correct model again and a gain and you're often left confused or unable to understand the actions, discussions, arguments, and conclusions, of others. (As opposed to seeing specific places they are wrong.) You can feel this lack of understanding. It just doesn't feel the same way as properly understanding a subject at all.

I would argue that this review is saying that the author's understanding falls a little short of par for the course. The author would probably have had a chance to see this for themselves by getting a little more into the literature.

Don't forget about Dunning–Kruger effect, though. One doesn't necessarily know they're ignorant.

An experienced publisher shouldn't be printing said book either.

At least I got an impression that Tptacek's most points are easily accountable so lets wait for Practical Cryptography With Go, 2nd Ed. :)

As bad as it may seem I've found that saying incorrect things results in more learning than staying quiet so I often say incorrect things but things I think are true. I'm embarrassed when I'm wrong but I always learn from it. I also ask "why?" a lot and "what is that?" if it makes sense to (or just Google it later). I learn this way. It helps solve ignorance. It doesn't make me a faster thinker which is something I may not be able to fix, and it doesn't help improve my motivation to learn more which I need to do more of instead of playing video games or creating things.

Writing a book to teach other people should not be considered first and foremost a way to learn a subject. You may learn when corrected, but at the expense of the readers that read the mistakes and did not see corrections. This is more important the more advanced or important the subject.

I would not write a book on structural engineering to learn the subject or become an expert. The stakes for the misinformation being spread are high.

I am exactly the same way.

> I have no clue who the author of Practical Cryptography With Go is.


I see the implementation of cryptosystems as an engineering endeavor little different than designing, for example, a commercial airplane, a bridge, or a radiation therapy machine. In all cases you have a system whose failure can result in anything from monetary loss to death (for an example of the latter, faulty cryptographic software used by dissidents in repressive countries). In all cases you use a combination of rigorous testing and analysis from first principles to try and isolate potential weaknesses. In all cases you want to ensure the people who worked on the system knew what they were doing and put the right amount of due diligence into ensuring the system works correctly.

Unfortunately, not even widely used, highly trusted implementations work right all the time. A out-of-bounds memory bug introduced by an insufficiently vetted commit opened up a serious flaw in OpenSSL. On a much, much smaller scale, I once had the misfortune of working with an old version of Microchip's PIC18 AES library, which had some serious issues that made it nonfunctional for anything more complex than the toy sample app it shipped with. But with enough exposure these problems are eventually exposed and fixed. Would a world where everyone rolled their own bespoke, ad-hoc SSL implementations be more secure? I doubt it.

In the end, I think there needs to be a cultural shift. People shouldn't be discouraged from building their own crypto for fun and learning, but they should be discouraged from deploying it for any application where real security is required - at least not before undergoing rigorous analysis. One of the first things Dan Boneh teaches in his Crypto I class is that you should think very long and hard before implementing your own cryptosystems (i.e. don't do it), because getting it right is hard, and getting it even the slightest bit wrong tends to make it useless. And when you consider that people's livelihoods (their personal information, their money) and even lives might be jeopardized, taking responsibility as an engineer becomes of paramount importance. Crypto just doesn't lend itself to a "build an MVP, get it working, move fast and break things" mindset.

The reason why crypto might be even harder than the other engineering tasks you mention is that in those the "adversary" is indifferent, not actively trying to exploit every loophole you might have left. You might build a bridge that has some small weakness, but no-one will come and stack weights in the exact pattern that exploits the weakness and makes the bridge collapse.

Beyond that, failure of a bridge or an airplane is not likely to go unnoticed. Every failure will be investigated, documented and studied. Crypto failure by contrast can just easily be silent, deadly, and continuously unnoticed for extended periods of time.

Engineering does have to deal with real adversarial threats.

Just on example I've found: https://www.nae.edu/Publications/Bridge/Terrorism/AnEngineer...

"The second relates to the design of structures. It is time for engineers and architects to get together to devise new structural forms that offer a higher degree of protection not only against terrorist attack, but also against other hazards. There is much to be learned from what happened in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, in Oklahoma City, and at the World Trade Center. Similarly, retrofitting of existing structures needs to be studied systematically, as it can reduce, at modest or virtually no cost, the potential for damage."

Yes gravity and metal are more predictable than a creative adversary:


Well, the lack of good documentation for libraries is also hugely problematic.

For example, I'd call OpenSSL documentation "criminally bad" to the point where it actively tries to coax the user into making a mistake - there is no central point of good practices for common use cases (e.g. sending a AES256-CBC encrypted block of data securely with shared key, using pub/private key, etc.) and the docs regulary don't mention the proper way of initializing different datastructures and modules (like RNGs) when they're mentioned. Even finding out how to properly initialize everyting to do a standard PBKDF#2 password derivation is a huge chore that requires reading through tons of badly formatted documents (or copying a random piece of code from StackOverflow which may or may not be secure). That makes even highly secured libraries a minefield where you can easily introduce huge security flaws without even knowing that you did so.

And as long as the excuse for that is "well, you just need few years of studying all crypto background" we'll be seeing security breaches everywhere - developers mostly just aren't prepared to spend so much time learning the crypto field or spend alot of money on security experts. In the big picture that's a huge issue - too many devs just opt to copy random pieces of code from StackOverflow, which can have very glaring security flaws or are simply not secure for the devs usecase.

> I see the implementation of cryptosystems as an engineering endeavor little different than designing, for example, > a commercial airplane, a bridge, or a radiation therapy machine.

Couldn't agree more. The problem is that for any bridge that gets used, every structural engineer signing off is going to have been educated and experienced to the extent that they are Chartered (or equivalent), the plans for the bridge have to be approved by planning authorities and a thorough documentation and review process has been gone through, before the first drop of concrete has been poured. And once its up, it's tested, and inspected regularly. As every engineer on the project has necessarily been educated they know how hard it is and what the pitfalls are.

Bad crypto results from the fact that there is no need for any of the above requirements to be met. Any old engineer might think they can produce a good implementation, design it, put it into production and have systems secured by it, without being aware of the potential problems they're causing.

The free world of the internet is a wonderful thing, but regulation isn't entirely a bad thing either.

> I see the implementation of cryptosystems as an engineering endeavor little different than designing, for example, a commercial airplane, a bridge, or a radiation therapy machine.

I disagree with you completely and absolutely. Your bridge in Boston isn't going to collapse the moment a researcher sitting in his bathtub in Tel Aviv has a eureka moment.

But if that eureka moment results in a preimage collision in a secure hashing algorithm, that hashing algorithm is broken for everyone all over the world forever. (Practically, as soon as the collision is public knowledge). Cryptographers have to actively seek out this information.

That's why MD5 is deprecated, even though the weakness is weaker than the one I've just stated. (It's just a chosen prefix collision that can be done today - a preimage [chosen hash] attack still takes nearly the full search space.)

Security is applied mathematics, the way engineering is applied physics. But the laws of physics don't change on an annual basis, or the way in which they change is too low-level to apply to engineering, whereas the laws of applied mathematics do.

Systems administrators have to keep up to date on an even more active basis, in some cases needing to patch any system within 48 hours of a public disclosure.

So I simply disagree that as an engineering endeavor implementation of cryptosystems is in any way similar to any other form of engineering.

In fact, for the particular example I used in the above case (a hash), the very existence of the operation is an open problem. ("The existence of such one-way functions is still an open conjecture", Wikipedia.)

What other branch of engineering relies on laws that may well be false?

While it is true that fundamental weaknesses in cryptographic theory may be discovered at any time, the implementation of cryptosystems is, I would assert, still very much like engineering. Broken theory is distinct from broken implementation, although broken theory does end up breaking implementations as well.

Maybe some mathematician will prove AES is broken tomorrow. In terms of the analogy, I don't care. The most qualified, fastidious engineer building the most correct implementation of AES is going to have an insecure system on their hands at the end of the day if that's true, and there is nothing we can do about that on the implementation side.

This is distinct from some programmer reading "Learn Crypto in 24 Hours", building a bad implementation of an otherwise secure cryptosystem due to inexperience or carelessness, and then screwing people over because that bad cryptosystem goes into production code.

How will regulation take care of bad crypto? Even experts get it wrong with some regularity (of course not as often as noobs, but still).

The problem with regulation is that one must first establish who is capable of regulating correctly. There's no such thing as abstract regulation that simply exists.

The entities that would most likely do the regulating already exist, but I'm unconvinced any of them would actually improve the situation. For instance, see http://blog.cr.yp.to/20140411-nist.html . What real group of people could really regulate cryptography? What real group of people's regulations could actually bring benefits to the field, rather than rubber stamping, government meddling for the NSA, and an emphasis on quantity over quantity?

If you can't answer that, I'd suggest staying away from a reflexive "regulation" standpoint.

I failed to express myself well. I'm not suggesting that all crypto is immediately regulated, that is completely infeasible. I'm just point out that regulation in general, over all domains, isn't inherently bad.

There is actually some regulation in this space. FIPS compliance, PCI DSS etc.. It's just not as wide reaching as something like the FAA for aeroplanes.

The FAA, NTSB, and aerospace industry do an effective job of solving problems and taking concrete steps to prevent disasters from happening again. The industry is economically motivated to do so, and those in power want to fly safe, so things get done.

The programming field just keeps making the same old mistakes again and again. We're even economically motivated to keep things this way, because we get paid to fix things when they go wrong. Roads in Germany come with a warranty, so the contractors make sure to build them correctly. Roads in the US and Italy keep getting fixed, because that's how those companies get paid.

"I'm just point out that regulation in general, over all domains, isn't inherently bad."

Very few people seriously argue that. (Non-zero, but very few.) I'm a libertarian and I wouldn't seriously argue that. It's mostly a strawman. (I advise anyone who makes routine use of that strawman to stop, and read more carefully whenever they feel tempted to use it again, but that's another post.)

My point is that we aren't talking about "regulation in general", we're talking about "regulation in cryptography", and it's a logical and/or cognitive error to fall back to a general case when one is trying to consider a specific case. If we're going to regulate cryptography, how are we going to regulate it? "In the general case regulators" don't exist. The closest entities we have now that would almost certainly become the regulators show few to no signs of being worthy of the task. This is a serious problem to be addressed without falling back to "general cases".

What I don't understand why most crypto libraries are then implemented in an inherently unsafe language. I feel something like the secure subset of Ada would have been much more apropriate.

Because to be usable it needs to be fast (and portable), and for a long time those constraints basically meant C - possibly not any more.

But let's not kid ourselves, reimplementing a library the size of OpenSSL in a new language, or even the same one, is not a trivial matter. We're talking about a $10m+ investment, who's going to pay?

tptacek makes a number of good points but I find it hard to agree with this one:

> there is concern that the NIST curves are backdoored and should be disfavored and replaced with Curve25519 and curves of similar construction.

Of course, "there is concern" is pretty vague, but it should be made clear that such concerns are in the realm of pure speculation at this point. There is simply no known way of constructing a "backdoored" elliptic curve of prime order over a prime field (in particular, the closest thing resembling such a backdoor, namely Teske's key escrow technique based on isogenies from GHS-weak curves, cannot work over a prime field). Scientifically speaking, I don't see more reasons to believe the assertion that "NIST parameters are backdoored because they aren't rigid" than the (equally unfounded) speculation that "Curve25519 may be weak because it has small parameters/a special base field/composite order/etc.".

Moreover, to say that the NSA has backdoored the NIST curve parameters is to assume that they have known, for quite a long time now, a serious weakness affecting a significant fraction of all elliptic curves of prime order over a given base field that has so far escaped the scrutiny of all mathematicians and cryptographers not working for a TLA. Being leaps and bounds ahead of the academic community in an advanced, pure mathematical subject doesn't quite align with what we know about NSA capabilities.

Don't take this the wrong way: there are good reasons to favor Curve25519 and other implementation-friendly elliptic curves (namely, they are faster, and they are fewer ways of shooting yourself in the foot if you implement them), but "NIST curves are backdoored" is not a very serious one.

I actually agree with most of this.

The issue with the NIST P- curves is that there's no good reason to trust them. And, for what it's worth, being ahead of academia on pure math isn't science fiction; NSA employs a lot of mathematicians. But the notion of a backdoor in the NIST curves is totally speculative.

Here's what I was trying to capture:


Despite its very weird submission as a story to HN, what you'd been reading was just a very long HN comment; I wrote it in a single draft and in the style I would use when writing a comment.

For the sake of historical accuracy, the NIST backdoor argument goes back to 1999 and Michael Scott [1]. I don't really buy it: if the NIST curves can't be trusted purely by association, then I find it very hard to trust the other curves as well.

[1] https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/sci.crypt/mFMukSsORmI/...

Brutal but also in some ways a gift to the author/publisher. Paired with the 1st edition, it cures the major defects.

And, if the criticisms can be addressed, in both specifics and perspective, for a future edition, they'll have a hardened book... almost sure to earn another updated expert review ("is it fixed?") at that time.

Brutal, but definitely a godsend to the author. Ptacek writes mostly neutrally, concisely, and clearly, pointing out errors and often putting in how to fix them. There's a very small amount of "I can't believe..." statements in there, but they're pretty soft and quite reasonable given his background. A publisher would love to have this kind of technical review done on their manuscripts.

Can someone explain me this?

> In considering RSA, the book recommends /dev/random, despite having previously advised readers to avoid /dev/random in favor of /dev/urandom. The book was right the first time.

From "man 4 urandom":

> A read from the /dev/urandom device will not block waiting for more entropy. As a result, if there is not sufficient entropy in the entropy pool, the returned values are theoretically vulnerable to a cryptographic attack on the algorithms used by the driver.

In fact, using /dev/urandom is one of the causes of the creation of weak ssh key, found in this research: https://factorable.net/

So: Why is /dev/urandom the correct choice over /dev/random ?

Here's the blog post that always gets linked when this comes up: http://sockpuppet.org/blog/2014/02/25/safely-generate-random...

Thanks, I never read it before.

Anyhow, its conclusions seem to be mistaken to me:

> It’s also a bug in the Linux kernel. But it’s also easily fixed in userland: at boot, seed urandom explicitly. Most Linux distributions have done this for a long time.

If you're an application developer (of something that runs very early in the boot process) but you're not making your own distro, and you can't trust your distro (I guess that since a lot of factorable keys existed, "Most Linux distributions have done this" might not actually hold true or count to a good enough percentage) you don't really have anything else that you can rely on to seed /dev/urandom explicitly

I'd think that the correct approach is to use urandom on everything but linux (after all, as long as your application isn't a blocker for the boot of the system, it doesn't seem terrible to wait for /dev/random)

Also, reading and blocking from /dev/random seems akin to failing early and explicitly (in the case where blocking on read is actually a problem), while reading urandom when not initialized seem to be a silent failure.

But I'm not going to write software that has to read from either device anytime soon, so don't panic if I'm mistaken :)

Seed it from /dev/random.

Has anyone attempted to get any of these man pages (on any of the OSs) updated? I can't find any threads offhand of someone proposing a patch and having it rejected, but I haven't searched too diligently either.

After I finished reading this review, I came to check out the HN comments knowing that the tone would be the subject of the top comments.

When did this community become more concerned with tone than correctness? The top of this thread is filled with people saying that the tone is bad, it's unproductive, it's unnecessary, etc. Yet nobody seems concerned about the published book filled with bad information that a lot of people are going to "learn" from. What gives?

> When did this community become more concerned with tone than correctness?

There's been a pretty strong concern about tone on HN from the early days, mainly (afaict) driven by Paul Graham having an interest in and repeatedly commenting about it. It's not the only concern, but avoidance of flaming and mean-spirited comments, in addition to avoidance of vapid or dumb comments, is one of the openly and repeatedly stated design goals of the community. I.e. it should be intelligent discussion, conducted in a collegial tone.

(This is a general comment on whether tone is and/or should be important on HN, not an evaluation of tptacek's review or implication that this comment/gist in particular would fall afoul of the intended HN standards.)

I have no problem with that. Avoiding flame wars is a noble goal.

The problem I have is that people are freaking out over extremely minor matter of tone while ignoring important technical problems. Worrying about tone is fine. Worrying about it to such an extreme degree in preference to other things is not.

The tech "community" (if you can even call it that anymore) has jumped a fucking pyramid of sharks.

Being right used to be the ultimate trump over social dynamics, which is what made tech a breath of fresh air to so many. Now that the field has become socially popular, it's been mired in the same vapid talking heads as everywhere else. And the people who actually know things are much quieter, as they generally have better things to do than compete for airtime.

Perhaps the reason people are not commenting on the correctness as much is that it is, broadly, correct. It's quite difficult to add to a discussion when it's already right - there's no debate to be had.

In which case, in a sane technical community, I would expect this thread to contain few comments.

I'll take it on faith that Thomas really wrote this (it's his style), but would the real Thomas 'H' Ptacek please acknowledge that he indeed wrote this (it is labeled 'anonymous').

He actually posted this link yesterday as a comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7581868

Ah cool! Thanks. It seemed a little strange to have his name used so prominently in the title here linked to something that did not have his name attached to it or in any other way easily associated. Call me paranoid ;)

Having a concern about the authenticity of a message seems appropriate in a discussion about security :-)

From the original discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7581868

'anonymous' just means that the user was not logged into github when posting the gist.

This is a good illustration of how, 1) crypto is hard 2) real-world cryptosystem design & implementation is hard and 3) teaching the aforementioned is hard.

I read Schneier's & Ferguson's Practical Cryptography years ago, the only thing I remember about it is the "don't try this at home" message.

> I read Schneier's & Ferguson's Practical Cryptography years ago

I cannot take anyone who advocated MAC-then-Encrypt, in 2010, seriously (in the book Cryptography Engineering: Design Principles and Practical Applications by Niels Ferguson, Bruce Schneier, Tadayoshi Kohno).

The school of cryptography they subscribe to seems to be "crypto is black magic; this is tried and it works and it is pretty much secure because I feel it is secure; experience is everything; proofs can have bugs too" as opposed to a more principled, analytical, methodical, provable security.

This is especially problematic in pedagogical contexts, because the learners, by definition, do not have much experience or calibrated feelings, so they'll be lost or have to copy the design decisions of the authors without taking into account the contexts or that they might be flat wrong. That approach indeed implies the natural advice to someone who wants to learn will be "don't try it at home".

I recommend Dan Boneh's coursera course, Crypto I, to get a good (basic) grounding in how some of this stuff works. He shows just how easy it is to break bad crypto systems in unexpected ways, and he does it by leading you through 5he attacks and getting you to implement some.

Was rather impressed...

"Don't try this at home" is good practical advice for building real systems that have real users. It's terrible pedagogy, though. You have to learn somehow, and trying it at home is actually how you do that.

Well, the message should be, do try this at home, as an exercise, but don't put it into production!

> The book actively recommends public key cryptography, because of concerns about key distribution. Again: bad strategy. Cryptographers use public key crypto only when absolutely required. Most settings for cryptography don't need it! Public key cryptography multiplies the number of things that can go wrong with your cryptosystem.

Can I ask why? What is so dangerous with asymmetric crypto compared to symmetric crypto?

The biggest reason is that public-key crypto is "just a math problem" to an extent that isn't true of symmetric crypto. Diffie Hellman, for instance, is just an RNG and a couple modexps. There's no machinery of repeated substitutions and permutations and nonlinearities to hide your mistakes.

Another big reason is that public-key algorithms are parameterized to an extent symmetric systems aren't. Two random numbers is all you need to safely encrypt something with AES. Diffie Hellman, the simplest of the public key algorithms, needs a prime, a generator, and random private keys with particular relationships to those parameters.

There's one, admittedly theoretical difference, at least: there is such a thing as perfectly (information theoretically) secure symmetric encryption scheme (regardless of the computational power of the adversary), but asymmetric crypto, by definition, relies on being computationally infeasible, not information theoretically impossible.

Even though it's theoretical, the side effects of this fact surface from time to time as engineering issues in asymmetric crypto: all information that the attacker might need to break asymmetric crypto is more or less in the ciphertext, intuitively suggesting it's easier for asymmetric crypto to catastrophically go wrong.

No, I still don't get it. How is information about the private key in the ciphertext?

It's great that one-time pad exists, but it's not really relevant in actual crypto code, right?

The only actual reason I can think of is that symmetric crypto is easier to write and understand - you just mangle and xor some text back and forth, while in asymmetric crypto, you need to understand fairly complex algebra. But again, that's not that important if you use existing primitives, right?

Possibly speed? Symmetric crypto is fast, and is often hardware accelerated. Asymetric is slow and not accelerated.

Not as big an issue with ECC, but RSA also has much larger block sizes, increasing the size of small payloads.

It's been my experience that Asymmetric is used for kex (key exchange) or key agreement or signing, but encryption is done using a symmetric algorithm.

But you would be using asymmetric only for exchanging keys for symmetric encryption.

One symmetric cryptography method are one-time pads. Essentially you generate a truly random key (for example by observing some decay process) that has the same length as the maximum length of a message you might want to send and distribute the key to the receiver in advance. You encrypt the message by modular vector addition and decrypt it by subtracting the key. If you use the key only once and it is random, there can't be any attack on this method.

Does Tptacek have a list of books/articles he would recommend to the Crypto neophyte? I'm talking about books which could be considered de facto standards like Knuth's TAOCP or Steven's TCP/IP books.

Let check the profile of tptacek. In his profile, there is a his reading list. Grab some book about cryptography.

Or you can browse his blog, Practical Cryptography or Cryptography Engineering may be a good start.

can someone explain this?

    * This book, I am not making this up, contains the string: "“We can use ASN.1 to make the format easier to parse".

Last time I had something to do with ASN.1 was years ago but it seemed to work well, libraries were full featured and cross-language interop was ok. What am I missing that makes ASN.1 bad ?

Or is the critique to an attempt to write a custom ASN.1 serializer/parser?

ASN.1 parsers have been the source of a decent number of exploits, producing a bad reputation. Although doing a little looking through CVEs that mention ASN.1, it looks like the vast majority come from one specific ASN.1 parser, the one in OpenSSL, so it might just be that OpenSSL's code is a mess.

> Last time I had something to do with ASN.1 was years ago but it seemed to work well, libraries were full featured and cross-language interop was ok. What am I missing that makes ASN.1 bad ?

Didn't you know? If a web developer out of high school cannot read a format at first glance, it's obviously over-engineered and useless and anyhow everybody should always use JSON anyways.

tptacek is hardly a web developer straight out of high school.

This is the best feedback the author could receive: a violent but objective review of every weak spot. Well done.

Coursera's "Cryptography I" pays off again -- I know most of the words!

Still waiting for Crypto II :(

Me too. How long overdue now? 2 years? Crypto 1 was awesome, am impatient to do more!

Yeah, they're just pushing it back :( Crypto I was the only course I couldn't get enough of, I did all the exercises and all the extras and got 100% at the end, it was fantastic. Dan Boneh explained everything very very well.

It says it is scheduled for July 21. Don't know how accurate that is.

The last paragraph of this review is in poor taste. The most cursory research into the author's "CryptoBox" shows that indeed this project is inspired by NaCL.

I found the last paragraph helpful. It's great that NaCL inspired him, but why use the same name for something different? Libraries and packaging are hard enough without sound-alikes.

This is a great review for two reasons:

a) it provides readers with a laundry list of things to go study independently

b) the book author can, given time and inclination, do the same study and improve the book

As someone finishing the final edits of a technical book (on Golang, at that) this is the kind of thing that horrifies me.

I want to go through every single chapter and rewrite it to stave off the imaginary critics in my head who will undoubtedly tear it apart.

Friendly advice, find a few people you respect on the subject and ask them to review it. Wards off a lot of the anxiety and will generally make your work a lot better.

I'm sure that's great advice, but I don't respect anyone. :(

In that case, you should probably reexamine a few things, starting with why you don't respect anyone: * are you writing about something "revolutionary"? If so, reexamine your work, as there are very few new ideas that have never been written about or studied before. You almost certainly have missed the previous work on the subject. * Is it because you live somewhere isolated with few of your peers nearby? Welcome to the internet—i'd be willing to bet you can probably find the people writing about what you're writing about and ask them to review it. * Is it because of your ego? I think you can figure out what to do with this one.

Even if your work is on something fairly esoteric, you can almost certainly find someone qualified to review it on technical grounds, even if they're not an acknowledged expert in the precise topic you're writing about.

Sorry, thought my comment was glaringly tongue-in-cheek. The publisher has located some extremely esteemed folks to evaluate and frankly it's gotten me even more self-conscious about what I've written.

I have been unable to locate another book on this subject (its implementation in Go, anyway), but there are scores of experts in Go, many of whom are far more qualified than I am. I would respect their opinions on the book itself.

Ah, my apologies then—tone can be hard to grok here sometimes.

Best of luck in the process! Would you care to share the subject area? Now you've piqued my curiousity...

General and practical concurrency in Go.

This was challenging primarily because it's so idiomatic and easy to handle in Go, so a good deal of the book talks about pitfalls, testing and implementation.

Those with glass ceilings shouldn't throw stones

While criticism is good, the condescending way it is presented, as well as being overly critical are bad. Example:

"Total undue reverence for NIST and FIPS standards; for instance, the book recommends PBKDF2 over bcrypt and scrypt (amusingly: the book actually recommends against scrypt, which is too new for it) because it's standardized."

I know people love scrypt and bcrypt, and have been proven safe so far, but there are advantages to use standardized methods. An implementation can make something less safe than the standard.

This is silly. There is no advantage to using PBKDF2 other than to placate PHBs. PBKDF2 (as commonly implemented, with HMAC-SHA2) is faster than bcrypt and scrypt and particularly straightforward to implement in GPU crackers.

bcrypt is also approximately the same age as PBKDF2.

And, finally, standardization is a very poor substitute for security analysis. PKCS1v1.5 is also a standard. If you want to argue against bcrypt, you'll have to marshal actual arguments.

I'm not arguing against bcrypt/scrypt per se.

I'm arguing that there may be advantages in using standardized methods (for interoperability) and especially implementations.

Which one is safer, using PBKDF2 from a known implementation or the "bcrypt library" for Ruby/Node that someone just posted to github? Oh what do you mean that's not how you read secure random numbers?

> Which one is safer, using PBKDF2 from a known implementation or the "bcrypt library"

What kind of dilemma choice is that? It should rather be:

"Which one is safer, using PBKDF2 from a known implementation or bcrypt from a known implementation?"

But even that question is erroneous. After all, why shouldn't we just use PBKDF2 from RSA's known BSAFE implementation? What could possibly go wrong with that?

Or if you don't like RSA because of da Feds, why not use the known-good OpenSSL for securing data in motion instead of something new and untested like stunnel or spiped?

Known implementations are a very good consideration factor. You should use TLS (though maybe not OpenSSL's) in general instead of designing your own secure transport. But being from a known implementation should not be the only factor you consider otherwise you're just cargo culting. You have to understand pros/cons of each solution, even if that means you have to learn a little bit about the problem space.

Yes, "Bob's bcrypt lib" is safer (apart from some serious mistake or compromise, which are not rare) than hashing your passwords with a rock-solid sha1 library.

"But being from a known implementation should not be the only factor you consider otherwise you're just cargo culting"

Of course

In the same way some people blindly answer "use bcrypt" to any mention of password hashing.

> In the same way some people blindly answer "use bcrypt" to any mention of password hashing.

It's almost like there was a reason I explicitly decried cargo culting (yes, that counts too) and blind answers instead of understanding.

Could you try to read and understand the comments that are left instead of responding to points that were never made?

The bcrypt library.

Reading this makes me think that the Go crypto primitives could use a lot more plumbing; it would make them more useful, and avoid some pitfalls by making it easier to do the right thing.

Strong agree. I like Go's crypto library, but wish it had higher-level interfaces.

After reading this, could anyone recommend a good intro to crypto book? I see a lot of good reviews of Bruce Schneier's Applied Cryptography.

Apparently the same reviewer says it's worse[0], unless he's talking about a different book. This surprises me based on Schneier's popularity, but having not read the book and not being an expert on crypto, I wouldn't know.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7597970

How do we know that this is written by tptacek?

He posted it in a comment yesterday, read the rest of this thread.

The author is a systems engineer at Cloudflare.

I don't think he liked the book

"S->C nonce, C->S HASH(pw, nonce), HEAD->DESK smash" :D

I wonder who the intended audience of this review is. The book is clearly geared toward beginners. It would seem a review of such a book should be geared toward those who might read it to learn about cryptography. This review is obviously geared toward some other audience, however. Otherwise a criticism like The book writes its own Diffie-Hellman implementation and recommends it to readers would be backed up and explained, instead of being expected to stand on its own.

Is the audience for this review intended to be cryptography experts, who would not read such a book except to praise or trash it? If that's the case, it seems rather mean spirited. More "wow check this loser out" than "I don't recommend this book to beginners or anyone and here's why."

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