posted June 2017
Noise is a protocol framework allowing you to build different lightweight TLS-like handshakes depending on your use case. Benefits are a short code size, very few dependencies, simplicity of the security guarantees and analysis. It focuses primarily on the initial asymmetric phase of the setup of a secure channel, but does leave you with two ciphers that you can use to read and write on both sides of the connection. If you want to know more, I wrote a readable implementation, and have a tutorial video.
Strobe is a protocol framework as well, focusing on the symmetric part of the protocol. Its simplicity boils down to only using one cryptographic primitive: the duplex construction. Which allows developers to benefit from an ultra short cryptographic code base supporting their custom-made symmetric protocols as well as their different needs of cryptographic functions. Indeed, Strobe can be used as well to instantiate a hash function, a key derivation function, a pseudo-random number generator, a message authentication code, an authenticated encryption with associated data cipher, etc... If you want to know more, I wrote a readable implementation and Mike Hamburg gave a talk at RWC.
Noise+Strobe=Disco. One of Noise's major character is that it keeps a running hash, digesting every message and allowing every new handshake message to mix the transcript in its encryption while authenticating previous messages received and sent. Strobe works like that naturally. Its duplex function absorbs every calls being made to the underlying primitive (the Keccak permutation), to the extent that every new operation is influenced by any operation that happened previously. These two common traits in Strobe and Noise led me to pursue a merge between the two: what if that running hash and symmetric state in Noise was simply Strobe's primitive? And what if at the end of a handshake Noise would just spew out two Strobe's objects also depending on the handshake transcript? I talked to Trevor Perrin about it and his elegant suggestion for a name (Disco) and my curiosity led to an implementation of what it would look like.
This is of course highly experimental. I modified the Noise's specification to see how much I could remove/simplify from it and the result is already enjoyable.
I've discussed the changes on the mailing list. But simply put: the CipherState has been removed, the SymmetricState has been replaced by calls to Strobe. This leaves us only with one object: the HandshakeState. Every symmetric algorithm has been removed (HDKF, HMAC, HASH, AEAD). The specification looks way shorter, while the Disco implementation is more than half the size of the Noise implementation.
The Strobe's calls naturally absorbs every operation, and can encrypt/decrypt the handshake messages even if no shared secret has been negotiated (with a non-keyed duplex construction), which simplifies corner cases where you would have to test if you have already negotiated a shared secret or not.