david wong

Hey! I'm David, cofounder of zkSecurity and the author of the Real-World Cryptography book. I was previously a crypto architect at O(1) Labs (working on the Mina cryptocurrency), before that I was the security lead for Diem (formerly Libra) at Novi (Facebook), and a security consultant for the Cryptography Services of NCC Group. This is my blog about cryptography and security and other related topics that I find interesting.

Crypto and CHES Debriefing posted August 2016

While Blackhat and Defcon are complete mayhem (especially Defcon), Crypto and CHES look like cute conferences compared to them. I've been twice at blackhat and defcon, and still can't seem to be productive and really find ways to take advantage of the learning well there. Besides meeting nice people it's more of a hassle to walk around and find what to listen to or do. On the other side, it's only my first time at Crypto and CHES but I already have an idea on how to make the most of it. The small size makes it easy to talk to great people (or at least be 2 meters away from them :D) and the small amount of tracks (2 for Crypto and 1 for CHES) makes it easy not to miss anything and avoid getting exhausted quickly from walking and waiting between talks. The campus is really nice and cozy, it's a cute university with plenty of rooms with pool tables and Foosball, couches and lounges.


The beach is right in front of the campus and most of the lunch and dinners are held outside on the campus' loans, or sometimes on the beach. The talks are sometimes quite difficult to get into, the format is of 25 minutes and the speakers are not all the time trying to pass along the knowledge but rather are trying to market their papers or checking their PHD todo list. On the bright side, the workshops are all awesome, the vendors are actually knowledgeable and will answer all your stupid questions, and posters are displayed in front of the conference with usually someone knowledgeable near by.


The rump session is a lot of fun as well, but prepare for a lot of private jokes unless you've been here for many years.

  • Here are my notes on the whitebox and indistinghuishability obfuscation workshop. The tl;dr: iO is completely impractical, and probably will continue to be at least for a good decade. Cryptographically secure Whitebox currently do not exist, at least not in public publications, but even the companies involved seemed comparable to hardware vendors trying to find side-channel countermeasures: mostly playing with heuristics that raise the bar high enough (in dollars) for potential attackers to break their systems.

  • Here are my notes on the smartcards and cache attacks workshop. The tl;dr is that when you build hardware that does crypto you need to go through some evaluations. Certification centers have labs for that with equipment to do EM analysis (more practical than power) and fault attacks. FIB (Focused Ion Beams) are too expensive and they will never have this kind of equipment, but more general facilities have them and you can ask to borrow the equipment for a few hours (although they never do that). Government have their own labs as well. Getting a certification is expensive and so you will probably want to do a pre-eval internally or with a third-party before that. For smartcards the consensus is to get a Common Criteria evaluation, it gives you a score calculated according to the possible attacks, and how long/how much money/how many experts they need to happen. Cache attacks in the cloud or in embedded devices where you corrupt a core/process are practical. And as with fault attacks, there is a lot you can do there.

  • Here are my notes on the PROOFS workshop. No real take away here other than we've been ignoring hardware when trying to implement secure software, and we should probably continue to do so because it's a big clusterfuck down there.

I'll try to keep an up-to-date list of blogposts on the talks that were given at both Crypto and CHES. If you have any blogpost on a talk please share it in the comments and I will update this page! Also if you don't have a blog but you would be happy to write an invited blogpost on one of the talk on this blog, contact me!

Besides that, we had a panel at CHES that I did not pay too close attention too but Alex Gantman from Qualcomm said a few interesting things: 10 years ago, in 2006, was already a year before the first iPhone, and two years before the first android phone. Only 20 years ago did we discover side-channel attacks and stack smashing for fun and profit was released. Because of that it is highly questionable how predictable the next 10 years will be. (Although I'm sure car hacking will be one of the new nest of vulns). He also said something along the lines:

I've never seen, in 15 years of experience, someone saying "you need to add this security thingy so that we can reach regulation". It is usually the other way around: "you don't need to add more security measures, we've already reached regulation". Regulations are seen as a ceiling.

And because I asked a bunch of questions to laser people (thanks to AlphaNov, eShard and Riscure!), here's my idea on how you would go to do a fault attack:


  • You need to get a laser machine. Riscure and a bunch of others are buying lasers from AlphaNov, a company from Bordeaux!
  • You need to power the chip you're dealing with while you do your analysis
  • look at the logic, it's usually the smallest component on the chip. The biggest is the memory.
  • You need a trigger for your laser, which is usually made with an FPGA because it needs to be fast to create the laser beam. It usually takes 15 nanoseconds with more or less 8 picoseconds.
  • You can see, with infrared camera, through the silicium where your laser is hitting as well. This way if you know where to hit, you can precisely set the hitting point.
  • The laser will go through the objective of the microscope you're using to observe the chip/IC/SoCs with.
  • Usually since you're targeting the logic and it's small you can't see the gates/circuit, so you blindly probe it with short burst of photons, cartographying it until you find the right XOR or operation you are trying to target.
  • It seems like you would also need to use test vectors for that: known plaintext/ciphertext pairs where you know what the fault is supposed to look like on the ciphertext (if you're targeting an encryption)
  • Once you have the right position, you're good to try your attack.

Anyway! Enough for the blogpost. Crypto will be held at Santa Barbara next year (comme toujours), and CHES will be in Taiwan!

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