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Password Hashing

Storing passwords for user authentication purposes in plaintext is the
simplest but least secure method; when an attacker compromises the
database in which the passwords are stored, they immediately gain
access to all of them. Often passwords are reused among multiple
services or machines, meaning once a password to a single service is
known an attacker has a substantial head start on attacking other

The general approach is to store, instead of the password, the output
of a one way function of the password. Upon receiving an
authentication request, the authenticator can recompute the one way
function and compare the value just computed with the one that was
stored. If they match, then the authentication request succeeds. But
when an attacker gains access to the database, they only have the
output of the one way function, not the original password.

Common hash functions such as SHA-256 are one way, but used alone they
have problems for this purpose. What an attacker can do, upon gaining
access to such a stored password database, is hash common dictionary
words and other possible passwords, storing them in a list. Then he
can search through his list; if a stored hash and an entry in his list
match, then he has found the password. Even worse, this can happen
*offline*: an attacker can begin hashing common passwords days,
months, or years before ever gaining access to the database. In
addition, if two users choose the same password, the one way function
output will be the same for both of them, which will be visible upon
inspection of the database.

There are two solutions to these problems: salting and
iteration. Salting refers to including, along with the password, a
randomly chosen value which perturbs the one way function. Salting can
reduce the effectivness of offline dictionary generation (because for
each potential password, an attacker would have to compute the one way
function output for all possible salts - with a large enough salt,
this can make the problem quite difficult). It also prevents the same
password from producing the same output, as long as the salts do not
collide. With a large salt (say 80 to 128 bits) this will be quite
unlikely. Iteration refers to the general technique of forcing
multiple one way function evaluations when computing the output, to
slow down the operation. For instance if hashing a single password
requires running SHA-256 100,000 times instead of just once, that will
slow down user authentication by a factor of 100,000, but user
authentication happens quite rarely, and usually there are more
expensive operations that need to occur anyway (network and database
I/O, etc). On the other hand, an attacker who is attempting to break a
database full of stolen password hashes will be seriously
inconvenienced by a factor of 100,000 slowdown; they will be able to
only test at a rate of .0001% of what they would without iterations
(or, equivalently, will require 100,000 times as many zombie botnet

Botan provides two techniques for password hashing, bcrypt and

.. _bcrypt:

Bcrypt Password Hashing

Bcrypt is a password hashing scheme originally designed for use in
OpenBSD, but numerous other implementations exist. It is made
available by including ``bcrypt.h``. Bcrypt provides outputs that
look like this::


.. cpp:function:: std::string generate_bcrypt(const std::string& password, \
   RandomNumberGenerator& rng, u16bit work_factor = 10)

   Takes the password to hash, a rng, and a work factor. Higher values
   increase the amount of time the algorithm runs, increasing the cost
   of cracking attempts. The resulting hash is returned as a string.

.. cpp:function:: bool check_bcrypt(const std::string& password, \
   const std::string& hash)

   Takes a password and a bcrypt output and returns true if the
   password is the same as the one that was used to generate the
   bcrypt hash.

Here is an example of using bcrypt:

.. literalinclude:: examples/bcrypt.cpp

.. _passhash9:


Botan also provides a password hashing technique called passhash9, in
``passhash9.h``, which is based on PBKDF2. Its outputs look like::


.. cpp:function:: std::string generate_passhash9(const std::string& password, \
   RandomNumberGenerator& rng, u16bit work_factor = 10, byte alg_id = 0)

   Functions much like ``generate_bcrypt``. The last parameter,
   ``alg_id``, specifies which PRF to use. Currently defined values

   ======= ==============
   Value   PRF algorithm
   ======= ==============
   0       HMAC(SHA-1)
   1       HMAC(SHA-256)
   2       CMAC(Blowfish)
   ======= ==============

.. cpp:function:: bool check_passhash9(const std::string& password, \
   const std::string& hash)

   Functions much like ``check_bcrypt``