Internet-Draft COSE Hashes September 2020
Schaad Expires March 18, 2021 [Page]
Network Working Group
Intended Status:
J. Schaad
August Cellars

CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE): Hash Algorithms


The CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE) syntax [I-D.ietf-cose-rfc8152bis-struct] does not define any direct methods for using hash algorithms. There are, however, circumstances where hash algorithms are used, such as indirect signatures where the hash of one or more contents are signed, and X.509 certificate or other object identification by the use of a fingerprint. This document defines a set of hash algorithms that are identified by COSE Algorithm Identifiers.

Contributing to this document

This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

The source for this draft is being maintained in GitHub. Suggested changes should be submitted as pull requests at Editorial changes can be managed in GitHub, but any substantial issues need to be discussed on the COSE mailing list.

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet-Drafts is at

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This Internet-Draft will expire on March 18, 2021.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE) syntax does not define any direct methods for the use of hash algorithms. It also does not define a structure syntax that is used to encode a digested object structure along the lines of the DigestedData ASN.1 structure in [CMS]. This omission was intentional, as a structure consisting of just a digest identifier, the content, and a digest value does not, by itself, provide any strong security service. Additionally, an application is going to be better off defining this type of structure so that it can include any additional data that needs to be hashed, as well as methods of obtaining the data.

While the above is true, there are some cases where having some standard hash algorithms defined for COSE with a common identifier makes a great deal of sense. Two of the cases where these are going to be used are:

Indirect signing of content is a paradigm where the content is not directly signed, but instead a hash of the content is computed and that hash value, along with an identifier for the hash algorithm, is included in the content that will be signed. Doing indirect signing allows for a signature to be validated without first downloading all of the content associated with the signature. Rather the signature can be validated on all of the hash values and pointers to the associated contents, then those associated parts can be downloaded, the hash value of that part computed, and then compared to the hash value in the signed content. This capability can be of even greater importance in a constrained environment as not all of the content signed may be needed by the device. An example of how this is used can be found in [I-D.ietf-suit-manifest].

The use of hashes to identify objects is something that has been very common. One of the primary things that has been identified by a hash function in a secure message is a certificate. Two examples of this can be found in [ESS] and the COSE equivalents in [I-D.ietf-cose-x509].

1.1. Requirements Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

2. Hash Algorithm Usage

As noted in the previous section, hash functions can be used for a variety of purposes. Some of these purposes require that a hash function be cryptographically strong. These include direct and indirect signatures. That is, using the hash as part of the signature or using the hash as part of the body to be signed. Other uses of hash functions may not require the same level of strength.

This document contains some hash functions that are not designed to be used for cryptographic operations. An application that is using a hash function needs to carefully evaluate exactly what hash properties are needed and which hash functions are going to provide them. Applications should also make sure that the ability to change hash functions is part of the base design, as cryptographic advances are sure to reduce the strength of a hash function [BCP201].

A hash function is a map from one, normally large, bit string to a second, usually smaller, bit string. As the number of possible input values is far greater than the number of possible output values, it is inevitable that there are going to be collisions. The trick is to make sure that it is difficult to find two values that are going to map to the same output value. A "Collision Attack" is one where an attacker can find two different messages that have the same hash value. A hash function that is susceptible to practical collision attacks, SHOULD NOT be used for a cryptographic purpose. The discovery of theoretical collision attacks against a given hash function SHOULD trigger protocol maintainers and users to do a review of the continued suitability of the algorithm if alternatives are available and migration is viable. The only reason why such a hash function is used is when there is absolutely no other choice (e.g. a Hardware Security Module (HSM) that cannot be replaced), and only after looking at the possible security issues. Cryptographic purposes would include the creation of signatures or the use of hashes for indirect signatures. These functions may still be usable for non-cryptographic purposes.

An example of a non-cryptographic use of a hash is for filtering from a collection of values to find a set of possible candidates; the candidates can then be checked to see if they can successfully be used. A simple example of this is the classic fingerprint of a certificate. If the fingerprint is used to verify that it is the correct certificate, then that usage is a cryptographic one and is subject to the warning above about collision attack. If, however, the fingerprint is used to sort through a collection of certificates to find those that might be used for the purpose of verifying a signature, a simple filter capability is sufficient. In this case, one still needs to confirm that the public key validates the signature (and the certificate is trusted), and all certificates that don't contain a key that validates the signature can be discarded as false positives.

To distinguish between these two cases, a new value in the recommended column of the COSE Algorithms registry is to be added. "Filter Only" indicates that the only purpose of a hash function should be to filter results and it is not intended for applications which require a cryptographically strong algorithm.

2.1. Example CBOR hash structure

[COSE] did not provide a default structure for holding a hash value not only because no separate hash algorithms were defined, but because how the structure is setup is frequently application specific. There are four fields that are often included as part of a hash structure:

An example of a structure which permits all of the above fields to exist would look like the following.

COSE_Hash_V = (
    1 : int / tstr, # Algorithm identifier
    2 : bstr, # Hash value
    ? 3 : tstr, # Location of object that was hashed
    ? 4 : any   # object containing other details and things

Below is an alternative structure that could be used in situations where one is searching a group of objects for a matching hash value. In this case, the location would not be needed and adding extra data to the hash would be counterproductive. This results in a structure that looks like this:

COSE_Hash_Find = [
    hashAlg : int / tstr,
    hashValue : bstr

3. Hash Algorithm Identifiers

3.1. SHA-1 Hash Algorithm

The SHA-1 hash algorithm [RFC3174] was designed by the United States National Security Agency and published in 1995. Since that time a large amount of cryptographic analysis has been applied to this algorithm and a successful collision attack has been created ([SHA-1-collision]). The IETF formally started discouraging the use of SHA-1 with the publishing of [RFC6194].

Despite the above, there are still times where SHA-1 needs to be used and therefore it makes sense to assign a codepoint for the use of this hash algorithm. Some of these situations are with historic HSMs where only SHA-1 is implemented; other situations are where the SHA-1 value is used for the purpose of filtering and thus the collision resistance property is not needed.

Because of the known issues for SHA-1 and the fact that it should no longer be used, the algorithm will be registered with the recommendation of "Filter Only". This provides guidance about when the algorithm is safe for use, while discouraging usage where it is not safe.

The COSE capabilities for this algorithm is an empty array.

Table 1: SHA-1 Hash Algorithm
Name Value Description Capabilities Reference Recommended
SHA-1 -14 SHA-1 Hash [] [This Document] Filter Only

3.2. SHA-2 Hash Algorithms

The family of SHA-2 hash algorithms [FIPS-180-4] was designed by the United States National Security Agency and published in 2001. Since that time some additional algorithms have been added to the original set to deal with length extension attacks and some performance issues. While the SHA-3 hash algorithms have been published since that time, the SHA-2 algorithms are still broadly used.

There are a number of different parameters for the SHA-2 hash functions. The set of hash functions which have been chosen for inclusion in this document are based on those different parameters and some of the trade-offs involved.

The COSE capabilities array for these algorithms is empty.

Table 2: SHA-2 Hash Algorithms
Name Value Description Capabilities Reference Recommended
SHA-256/64 -15 SHA-2 256-bit Hash truncated to 64-bits [] [This Document] Filter Only
SHA-256 -16 SHA-2 256-bit Hash [] [This Document] Yes
SHA-384 -43 SHA-2 384-bit Hash [] [This Document] Yes
SHA-512 -44 SHA-2 512-bit Hash [] [This Document] Yes
SHA-512/256 -17 SHA-2 512-bit Hash truncated to 256-bits [] [This Document] Yes

3.3. SHAKE Algorithms

The family of SHA-3 hash algorithms [FIPS-202] was the result of a competition run by NIST. The pair of algorithms known as SHAKE-128 and SHAKE-256 are the instances of SHA-3 that are currently being standardized in the IETF. This is the reason for including these algorithms in this document.

The SHA-3 hash algorithms have a significantly different structure than the SHA-2 hash algorithms.

Unlike the SHA-2 hash functions, no algorithm identifier is created for shorter lengths. The length of the hash value stored is 256-bits for SHAKE-128 and 512-bits for SHAKE-256.

The COSE capabilities array for these algorithms is empty.

Table 3: SHAKE Hash Functions
Name Value Description Capabilities Reference Recommended
SHAKE128 -18 SHAKE-128 256-bit Hash Value [] [This Document] Yes
SHAKE256 -45 SHAKE-256 512-bit Hash Value [] [This Document] Yes

4. IANA Considerations

The IANA actions in [I-D.ietf-cose-rfc8152bis-struct] and [I-D.ietf-cose-rfc8152bis-algs] need to be executed before the actions in this document. Where early allocation of codepoints has been made, these should be preserved.

4.1. COSE Algorithm Registry

IANA is requested to register the following algorithms in the "COSE Algorithms" registry.

  • The SHA-1 hash function found in Table 1.
  • The set of SHA-2 hash functions found in Table 2.
  • The set of SHAKE hash functions found in Table 3.

Many of the hash values produced are relatively long and as such the use of a two byte algorithm identifier seems reasonable. SHA-1 is tagged as 'Filter Only' and thus a longer algorithm identifier is appropriate even though it is a shorter hash value.

IANA is requested to add the value of 'Filter Only' to the set of legal values for the 'Recommended' column. This value is only to be used for hash functions and indicates that it is not to be used for purposes which require collision resistance. IANA is requested to add this document to the reference section for this table due to this addition.

5. Security Considerations

Protocols need to perform a careful analysis of the properties of a hash function that are needed and how they map onto the possible attacks. In particular, one needs to distinguish between those uses that need the cryptographic properties, such as collision resistance, and properties that correspond to possible object identification. The different attacks correspond to who or what is being protected: is it the originator that is the attacker or a third party? This is the difference between collision resistance and second pre-image resistance. As a general rule, longer hash values are "better" than short ones, but trade-offs of transmission size, timeliness, and security all need to be included as part of this analysis. In many cases the value being hashed is a public value and, as such, pre-image resistance is not part of this analysis.

Algorithm agility needs to be considered a requirement for any use of hash functions [BCP201]. As with any cryptographic function, hash functions are under constant attack and the cryptographic strength of hash algorithms will be reduced over time.

6. Normative References

Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <>.
Schaad, J., "CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE): Structures and Process", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-cose-rfc8152bis-struct-12, , <>.
National Institute of Standards and Technology, "Secure Hash Standard", FIPS PUB 180-4, .
National Institute of Standards and Technology, "SHA-3 Standard: Permutation-Based Hash and Extendable-Output Functions", FIPS PUB 202, .
Eastlake 3rd, D. and P. Jones, "US Secure Hash Algorithm 1 (SHA1)", RFC 3174, DOI 10.17487/RFC3174, , <>.

7. Informative References

Housley, R., "Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS)", STD 70, RFC 5652, DOI 10.17487/RFC5652, , <>.
Hoffman, P., Ed., "Enhanced Security Services for S/MIME", RFC 2634, DOI 10.17487/RFC2634, , <>.
Schaad, J., "CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE): Header parameters for carrying and referencing X.509 certificates", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-cose-x509-06, , <>.
Polk, T., Chen, L., Turner, S., and P. Hoffman, "Security Considerations for the SHA-0 and SHA-1 Message-Digest Algorithms", RFC 6194, DOI 10.17487/RFC6194, , <>.
Schaad, J., "CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE): Initial Algorithms", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-cose-rfc8152bis-algs-11, , <>.
Moran, B., Tschofenig, H., Birkholz, H., and K. Zandberg, "A Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR)-based Serialization Format for the Software Updates for Internet of Things (SUIT) Manifest", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-suit-manifest-09, , <>.
Housley, R., "Guidelines for Cryptographic Algorithm Agility and Selecting Mandatory-to-Implement Algorithms", BCP 201, RFC 7696, .
Stevens, M., Bursztein, E., Karpman, P., Albertini, A., and Y. Markov, "The first collision for full SHA-1", , <>.
Schaad, J., "CBOR Object Signing and Encryption (COSE)", RFC 8152, DOI 10.17487/RFC8152, , <>.

Author's Address

Jim Schaad
August Cellars