Recommended Cryptographic Primitives and TLS Suites

The following is a list of cryptographic primitives and TLS cipher suites. They should be adhered to in order to provide a minimal or “baseline” level of security for software and firmware components.  Most of the algorithms cited here are described in standards published by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The list also outlines algorithms and key length requirements that are likely to be encountered for DoD applications, since the requirements for these types of applications are often more stringent than what is permitted by the NIST. 


Cryptographically Secure Pseudo Random Number Generation (CSPRNG)

For generation of IVs, nonces, challenges and salts (These terms are defined in the course of this document). 

1)Hash_DRBG based on SHA256

2)Hash_DRBG based on SHA384 (minimal requirement for DoD applications)

This functionality will normally be provided by your programming language or API (eg. or rand()  rand_bytes() defined in the header OpenSSL header rand.h) 

In some cases, you may have to use the above random number generator directly for symmetric (AES) key generation – this is generally OK for AES key generation especially when no other method for generating the AES key is available. Other programing languages will provide you with a direct interface to generate symmetric keys. It is generally not appropriate to directly use these generators for creating RSA, ECC, or Diffie Hellman keys. Modern programming language interfaces should provide you with functions for generating this latter class of key  (eg. RSA_generate_key() defined in the OpenSSL header rsa.h). The above generators are typically seeded with input from a true entropy source, which in the case of Linux is /dev/random (NIST standards also allow one to augment the input from the true entropy source with a “nonce” and a “personalization string”, but the programming interface should typically shield you from these details). Though the periodicity of the above CSPRNGs is extremely high, in some rare cases, it may be relevant to re-seed the CSPRNG from the physical source at some point in time after its instantiation.

(Advanced Note:  The draft standard NIST SP 800-90C outlines methods for constructing pseudo-random number generators, also referred to as deterministic random number generators (or “DRBGs”, such as the one listed above), by specifying how to combine entropy sources with a DRBG. We are not currently considering this standard, since at the time of writing, it is still in draft form) 


True Random Number Generation (TRNG)

True random number generation (also called non-deterministic random number generation) generally refers to the construction of entropy sources. At the time of writing, we have no recommendations for this other than use of /dev/random, but are tracking development of the draft NIST SP 800-90B standard that specifies multiple TRNG mechanisms. 


10.3 Symmetric Encryption

  1. AES-128-GCM_16


  1. AES-256-GCM_16 (minimal requirement for DoD applications)


AES GCM encrypts an input stream and then computes an authentication tag over the ciphertext. The tag length should be 16 bytes. Every distinct message that is encrypted requires that a distinct random string of bits, called an IV is provided as input to the AES ciphering function in addition to the key and the plaintext message. The IV input should be 12 bytes. The AES key should be rotated after a maximum of $2^32$ encryptions. It is critically important to the security of GCM that the IVs used to encrypt two distinct messages under GCM are in turn distinct. There are two methods to construct IVs for GCM, the first being the so called deterministic method the second, the so called “RBG” method. The RBG method should be used with the secure random number generator listed above. Some programming languages and interfaces may require that you directly use a random number generator to generate the AES key (eg. rand_bytes() in the OpenSSL header rand.h). Other programming languages provide you with an interface to do so (eg. the KeyGenerator and classes)


Digital Signature Algorithms 

  1. RSASSA-PKCS1-v2.1 


Applications can use either of the above RSA based signing algorithms with modulus size 3072 bits.  The RSA public exponent should be 65537. There is an alternative (provable secure) RSA based signature scheme which utilizes probabilistic padding (PSS). We don’t currently include this scheme owing to a greater number and variation in parameters required for this signature scheme, but it may be included for use in the future. 


Advanced note on the generation of RSA keys – it is expected that a programming interface is available for the generation of RSA keys (for eg. the function RSA_generate_key() in the OpenSSL header rsa.h.) In some cases, the key generation interface may presuppose instantiation of an appropriately seeded random number generator (refer to discussion on CSPRNGs above). It is generally expected that prime number generation for the programming interface uses an approved method for testing primes, such as the methods specified in the FIPS 186-4 appendices)


Hash Functions

  1. SHA-256


  1. SHA-384 (minimal requirement for DoD applications)


Keyed Message Authentication Codes

In a loose sense, the RSA based digital signature scheme above can be thought of as a way to authenticate and verify the integrity of a message received from the holder of a RSA private key. In a similar vein, a keyed message authentication code (MAC) can be thought of as a way to authenticate and verify the integrity of a message received by the holder of a secret key, though in this case, the sender and the receiver must possess the same secret key. The following keyed MACs should be used


  1. HMAC (with SHA256)


  1. HMAC (with SHA384 minimal requirement for DoD applications)


  1. GMAC


HMAC is a hash function based key message authentication code. It should be used with a key size of 256 bits or 384 bits depending on the size of the hash function output. 


GMAC is a keyed message authentication function based on the GCM GHASH function. GMAC should be minimally be used with a key size of 128 bits. In addition, the IV size should be 96 bits and an output tag length should be 128 bits. For generation of keys and IVs related to GMAC, refer to the above discussion on AES-128-GCM_16


Elliptic Curves

The primary reason for providing guidance on elliptic curves is owing to their relevance to key exchange mechanisms within recommended TLS cipher suites described later. The following NIST “prime” curve should be used:


  1. NIST P-384


(Note: At the time of writing, this is the only curve currently allowed in DoD environments. The higher strength P-521 curve is generally disallowed) 


Diffie Hellman Groups

 Once more, the primary reason for providing guidance on Diffie Hellman (DH) groups is owing to their relevance to key exchange mechanisms within recommended TLS cipher suites described later. It is recommended that only DH groups with a prime modulus of 3072 bits or higher from RFC 3526 (i.e. “MODP group” ids 15 – 18) be used. 


Asymmetric Encryption

  1. RSA-OAEP with 2048 bit modulus 


RSA-OAEP requires a hash and mask generation function, it should be used with SHA-256 and mask generation function MGF1 


(Note: Analysis on specification of OAEP with SHA-384 for DoD applications is pending) 


Password Hashing 


  1. Bcrypt with 128 bit salt and a minimal load factor of 10 of regular users and 12 for privileged users.


Password Based Key Derivation  

  1. pbkdf2 – analysis pending

TLS Cipher Suites

The following cipher suites are recommended in order to secure internal PCF communications. The reader will notice that the following cipher suites only utilize the algorithms specified in the preceding sections. We do not currently consider it feasible to constrain cipher suites for external clients. 


TLS_DHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_GCM_SHA384 (DoD compliant algorithms)


TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_GCM_SHA384 (DoD compliant algorithms)


EC suites should only use the NIST P-384 curve (as per section above)

DH suites should only use the DH groups specified in the section above. 

RSA signatures should conform to the requirements stated above


(Note: the following facts are currently unknown (1) is P-384 supported with AES-128 suites, the standards are not clear on this, it may be implementation dependent (2) are DH groups 15 – 18 supported with AES-128 suites on all programming stacks? Curve P-384 and (minimally), the DH group id 15 should be supported with the AES-256 suites)