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Hash functions are an essential part of computer science. They map arbitrary length inputs into a fixed length outputs. There are general purpose and cryptographic hash functions. Cryptographic hash functions are one-way functions that provide certain guarantees on the complexity to find collisions. Non-cryptographic or general purpose hash functions do not provide such guarantees and are used for implementing hashtables. Their output should be evenly distributed and look random so that few collisions in the output occur.

One of those functions is called DJBX33A. It is used in the hash table implementation of Python (although as of 3.4 only for very short inputs) and many other products. It's a very simple algorithm:

hash_i+1 = hash_i * 33 + c_i
hash_0 = 5381

Where c_i is the current input byte and all operations are on 32bit signed integers. This is so simple, effective and fast it almost makes you cry. Even a trivial implementation on a modest compiler will probably produce a decent performance.

It has only one flaw: It is hard to vectorize on MMX/SSE/Neon/... . This is due to the iterative nature where each round depends on the output of the round before. The auto-vectorization engines of modern C/C++ compilers can do many magical things but this is still out of reach.

So what can be done? There is a simple mechanism that can be used here: Just run this algorithm four times and iterate the input bytes over the four hash states. This will effectively split the input bytestream into four seperate streams that can be hashed in parallel with vector instructions. The output will be 128bit which then can be hashed down into 64 or 32 bit output using regular DJBX33A.

I hereby call this algorithm X4DJBX33A.

I had some time during the last days and implemented X4DJBX33A using Intel intrinsics in several instructions sets and variants. Here are some benchmark results using an Intel Core-i7 4960HQ 2.6GHz CPU with gcc-4.8 on linux/amd64:

  • DJBX33A reference C: 1198 MiB/s
  • DJBX33A optimized C: 1614 MiB/s
  • X4DJBX33A reference C: 1039 MiB/s
  • X4DJBX33A optimized C: 3119 MiB/s
  • X4DJBX33A mmx vectorized: 3484 MiB/s
  • X4DJBX33A sse2 vectorized: 6196 MiB/s
  • X4DJBX33A ssse3 vectorized: 6658 MiB/s

Not bad, huh?

I published the code and the benchmarks on github: cleeus/hashx4. I started looking into other hash functions that are used in important hashtable implementations (namely siphash24 that is used in python 3.4 and later).

Looking at the benchmark results, there are also some important lessons to be learned:

  • If it's not an emberrassingly parallel algorithm, make it one (and then vectorize).

The DJBX33A algorithm can be implemented very fast but it is hard to vectorize. The modified version which I call X4DJBX33A seems to be well suited for running on 128bit or 64bit wide vector registers. When it is not vectorized, it is slower than a well implemented vanilla DJBX33A algorithm.

  • The SSSE3 version is an experiment.

SSSE3 has number of new integer intrinsics. Among them a mighty _mm_shuffle_epi8 that can be used to reorder all 16 bytes in a 128bit xmm register into an arbitrary permutation. Using this opcode can lead to an alternative implementation that doesn't use the two _mm_unpack instructions. On some CPUs this seems to be faster, on most slower CPUs it is not.

  • Opcode scheduling is important, so use intrinsics.

Benchmarks with -O0 and -O1 builds have shown that even the MMX and SSE implementations get noticeably slower when not optimized. A look at the disassembled binaries of the -O2 and -O3 optimized builds shows that the compiler reorders instructions. It probably does this to enhance the instruction level parallelism and provide the CPU with useful instructions while it is still waiting for some RAM I/O to complete. Using intrinsics instead of raw assembler code allows the developer to leverage the wisdom of the compiler.

  • The C implementation performance varies widely with the compiler.

MSVC and GCC seem to produce very different code from the C implementations. This is not surprising as the research on auto-vectorization and codegen is still ongoing. The SSE2 version seems to be much more stable across compilers and platforms.

  • Know your instruction set.

I struggled quite a bit with the SSE2 instruction set and initially failed to produce a vectorized version that was faster than the scalar one. This was due to insufficient knowledge of the instruction set. In the end learning all the intrinsics and their performance characteristics is what enables a developer to find a good solution.

  • Alignment matters.

Besides the reference C implementations, I produced optimized (but still C-based) versions of DJBX33A and X4DJBX33A. A major optimization was to hash the input with a simple implementation until an alignment boundary of 16 bytes in the input memory block was reached. Then the compiler gets a hint to assume that the pointer is aligned to a 16 byte boundary. After the hint, an inner loop which hashes 16 byte chunks and an outer loop which iterates the inner loop is run. This keeps the alignment assumption. This assumption allows the compiler to use opcodes that rely on alignment and enables auto-vectorization.

  • SSE2 is everywhere. Use it.

If you are on a 64bit X86 processor, you are guaranteed to have SSE2. On 32bit X86, every processor sold in the last 10 years has SSE2. From an economic point of view you can probably ignore non-SSE2 x86 CPUs or just provide one C implementation.

Hey kids, come here - grampa is telling a story from the war... ;)

I'm currently hunting a bunch of race conditions in a rather large C/C++ code base. Some of them manifest quite visibly as heap memory corruptions (the reason I'm searching), others are subtle and just visible in one-in-a-thousand slightly off output values.

Now ten years ago, when you were facing such bugs, probably all you could do was to read all thet code, verify the locking structure and look out for racyness. But things have changed substantially. We have valgrind.

Valgrind is a binary code instrumentation framework and a collection of tools on top of that. It will take your binary and instrument loads, stores and a bunch of important C library functions (memory management, thread synchronization, ...). It can then perform various checks on your running code. So it belongs in the category of dynamic analysis tools.

Luckily the buggy code also runs on linux where valgrind is available so I went on to try it. And boy did it find subtle bugs...

There are two different tools available for race conditions: helgrind and drd. I'm not yet 100% sure how both of them work but as far as I understand, they are tracking memory loads and stores together with synchronization primitives and build a runs-before graph of code segments. When code segments access shared memory in a conflicting way (reader/writer problem) without having a strong runs-before relationsship these are race conditions and will be reported.

Sadly I'm also finding real races in well known open source libraries that are supposed to be thread safe and work correctly ... seems they do not. This tells me, that the developers are not using all the tools available to check their code.

And this is my message: If you are writing an open source library or application that only remotly has something to do with threads, save yourself and your users a lot of trouble and use valgrind!

When your security measures go too far, your users will work around it.

physical security fail

(seen at a train station in Berlin)

My guess here is, that the person who was planning the locking system just forgot the break room of the train drivers or did not update the locking system when it was moved behind this door.

For various reasons I've been studying all kinds of authentication protocols, lately. A good authentication protocol should, for my purposes, fulfill the following properties:

  1. It does not disclose the secret to an eavesdropper over the wire.
  2. It does not require the server to store the secret.
  3. It is reasonably simple to implement.

As always, it seems to be a case of "choose two".

A little surprise for me was CRAM-MD5. Of course MD5 should not be used anymore, but CRAM-MD5 can trivially be changed into a CRAM-SHA256 just by replacing the underlying hash function. So let's keep the weak hash function out for the purpose of the discussion.

The point is, CRAM-MD5 fulfills 1. and 3. but NOT 2. This often is not immediately obvious and users and server administrators might not be aware of it. E.g. when you look at the native user database of a CRAM-MD5 enabled dovecot server, you will see something like this:


This looks like a hash of the password you use to authenticate to the dovecot server. But CRAM-MD5 is more or less just an alias for a classic challenge-response protocol based on HMAC-MD5. In a classic HMAC based authentication protocol the server sends the client a random nonce value and the client is supposed to respond with HMAC(secret, nonce). Then the server must also calculate HMAC(secret, nonce) on his side and compare the clients response with the expected result. If they match, he can know that the client also knew the secret.

As you can already see, the server MUST know the secret (unless there is some magical trick somewhere). So I looked into the relevant RFC-2159 for the CRAM protocol and RFC-2104 for the HMAC details. And deep in there in section "4. Implementation Note" in RFC-2104 you will find the answer.

Let's look at it in detail. First we need the definition of the HMAC function.

HMAC(secret, nonce) =
  H( secret ^ opad,
    H( secret ^ ipad, nonce )

Where H(m1, m2, ...) is a cryptographic hash function applied on it's concatenated arguments. opad and ipad are padding values that depend on the length of secret. ^ is a bitwise XOR. Now most hash functions can also be implemented with an additional initialization vector (IV) argument which contains the hash functions last internal state. With such an IV, a previous hash calculation can be continued at the place where it was stopped. If you only store the IVs for H( secret ^ opad ) and H( secret ^ ipad ) you can still calculate the complete HMAC while not storing the secret in plain.

HMAC(secret, nonce) =
  H( IV_opad,
    H( IV_ipad, nonce )

Turns out this is exactly what dovecot and probably any other sane CRAM-MD5 implementation does and has to do.

While this protects the original secret (your password) to some degree, the stored IVs are exactly as powerfull as the secret. If an attacker manages to get the stored CRAM-MD5 IV he can use it to log in into any other account that supports CRAM-MD5 and uses the same password.

That means, unlike crypt or bcrypt hashed password databases, a database with CRAM-MD5 IVs must be kept secret from any non-authorized user.

So while the CRAM-MD5 challenge-response authentication looks like beeing more secure than a plaintext authentication, it actually depends on the attacker model. You might be better off with just plaintext authentication over SSL (and a proper bcrypt password-hash database).

(via bassdrive) some DNB for coding sessions:

John B - Robot Lover (The Logistics Remix)