A few weeks back I wrote an update on the Truecrypt audit promising that we’d have some concrete results to show you soon. Thanks to some hard work by the NCC Crypto Services group, soon is now. We’re grateful to Alex, Sean and Tom, and to Kenn White at OCAP for making this all happen.
The TL;DR is that based on this audit, Truecrypt appears to be a relatively well-designed piece of crypto software. The NCC audit found no evidence of deliberate backdoors, or any severe design flaws that will make the software insecure in most instances.
That doesn’t mean Truecrypt is perfect. The auditors did find a few glitches and some incautious programming — leading to a couple of issues that could, in the right circumstances, cause Truecrypt to give less assurance than we’d like it to.
For example: the most significant issue in the Truecrypt report is a finding related to the Windows version of Truecrypt’s random number generator (RNG), which is responsible for generating the keys that encrypt Truecrypt volumes. This is an important piece of code, since a predictable RNG can spell disaster for the security of everything else in the system.
The Truecrypt developers implemented their RNG based on a 1998 design by Peter Guttman that uses an entropy pool to collect ‘unpredictable’ values from various sources in the system, including the Windows Crypto API itself. A problem in Truecrypt is that in some extremely rare circumstances, the Crypto API can fail to properly initialize. When this happens, Truecrypt should barf and catch fire. Instead it silently accepts this failure and continues to generate keys.
This is not the end of the world, since the likelihood of such a failure is extremely low. Moreover, even if the Windows Crypto API does fail on your system, Truecrypt still collects entropy from sources such as system pointers and mouse movements. These alternatives are probably good enough to protect you. But it’s a bad design and should certainly be fixed in any Truecrypt forks.
In addition to the RNG issues, the NCC auditors also noted some concerns about the resilience of Truecrypt’s AES code to cache timing attacks. This is probably not a concern unless you’re perform encryption and decryption on a shared machine, or in an environment where the attacker can run code on your system (e.g., in a sandbox, or potentially in the browser). Still, this points the way to future hardening of any projects that use Truecrypt as a base.
Truecrypt is a really unique piece of software. The loss of Truecrypt’s developers is keenly felt by a number of people who rely on full disk encryption to protect their data. With luck, the code will be carried on by others. We’re hopeful that this review will provide some additional confidence in the code they’re starting with.