Encrypting streams (27 Jun 2014)
When sending data over the network, chunking is pretty much a given. TLS has a maximum record size of 16KB and this fits neatly with authenticated encryption APIs which all operate on an entire message at once.
But file encryption frequently gets this wrong. Take OpenPGP: it bulk encrypts the data and sticks a single MAC on the end. Ideally everyone is decrypting to a temporary file and waiting until the decryption and verification is complete before touching the plaintext, but it takes a few seconds of searching to find people suggesting commands like this:
gpg -d your_archive.tgz.gpg | tar xz
With that construction, tar receives unauthenticated input and will happily extract it to the filesystem. An attacker doesn't (we assume) know the secret key, but they can guess at the structure of the plaintext and flip bits in the ciphertext. Bit flips in the ciphertext will produce a corresponding bit flip in the plaintext, followed by randomising the next block. I bet some smart attacker can do useful things with that ability. Sure the gpg command will exit with an error code, but do you think that the shell script writer carefully handled that case and undid the changes to the filesystem?
The flaw here isn't in CFB mode's malleability, but in OpenPGP forcing the use of unauthenticated plaintext in practical situations. (Indeed, if you are ever thinking about the malleability of ciphertext, you have probably already lost.)
I will even claim that the existance of an API that can operate in a streaming fashion over large records (i.e. will encrypt and defer the authenticator and will decrypt and return unauthenticated plaintext) is a mistake. Not only is it too easy to misunderstand and misuse (like the gpg example above) but, even if correctly buffered in a particular implementation, the existance of large records may force other implementations to do dangerous things because of a lack of buffer space.
If large messages are chunked at 16KB then the overhead of sixteen bytes of authenticator for every chunk is only 0.1%. Additionally, you can safely stream the decryption (as long as you can cope with truncation of the plaintext).
Although safer in general, when chunking one has to worry that an attacker hasn't reordered chunks, hasn't dropped chunks from the start and hasn't dropped chunks from the end. But sadly there's not a standard construction for taking an AEAD and making a scheme suitable for encrypting large files (AERO might be close, but it's not quite what I have in mind). Ideally such a scheme would take an AEAD and produce something very like an AEAD in that it takes a key, nonce and additional data, but can safely work in a streaming fashion. I don't think it need be very complex: take 64 bits of the nonce from the underlying AEAD as the chunk number, always start with chunk number zero and feed the additional data into chunk zero with a zero byte prefix. Prefix each chunk ciphertext with a 16 bit length and set the MSB to indicate the last chunk and authenticate that indication by setting the additional data to a single, 1 byte. The major worry might be that for many underlying AEADs, taking 64 bits of the nonce for the chunk counter leaves one with very little (or none!) left.
That requires more thought before using it for real but, if you are ever building encryption-at-rest, please don't mess it up like we did 20 years ago. (Although, even with that better design, piping the output into tar may still be unwise because an attacker can truncate the stream at a chunk boundary: perhaps eliminating important files in the process.)
Update: On Twitter, zooko points to Tahoe-LAFS as an example of getting it right. Additionally, taking the MAC of the current state of a digest operation and continuing the operation has been proposed for sponge functions (like SHA-3) under the name MAC-and-continue. The exact provenance of this isn't clear, but I think it might have been from the Keccak team in this paper. Although MAC-and-continue doesn't allow random access, which might be important for some situations.