Don’t Forget to Brush Your Fur

There are a lot of random topics I’ve wanted to write about since I started Dhole Moments, and for one reason or another, haven’t actually written about. I know from past experience with other projects that if you don’t occasionally do some housekeeping, your backlog eventually collapses under its own gravity and you can never escape from it.

So, to prevent that, I’d like to periodically take some time to clean up some of those loose ends that collect over time.

Random-Access AEAD

AEAD stands for Authenticated Encryption with Associated Data. Typically, AEAD constructions involve a stream cipher (which may also be a block cipher in counter mode) and a message authentication code (which may also be an almost-universal hash function).

AEAD modes are designed for one-shot APIs: Encrypt (then authenticate) all at once; (verify then) decrypt all at once. AES-GCM, ChaPoly, etc.

AEADs are less great at providing random access to the underlying plaintext. For example: If you’re encrypting a 240 GB file with AES-GCM, but you only need a 512 KB chunk at some arbitrary point in the file, you’re forced to choose between either:

  1. Authenticating the rest of the AES-GCM ciphertext, then decrypting only the relevant chunk. (Performance sucks.)
  2. Sacrificing integrity and decrypting the desired chunk with AES-CTR.

Being forced to choose between speed and security will almost certainly result in a loss of security. The incentives of software developers (especially with fly-by-night startup engineers) all-but-guarantee this outcome.

Consequently, there have been several implementations of streaming-friendly AEAD. The most famous of which is Phil Rogaway’s STREAM construction.

The downside to STREAM is that it requires an additional T bytes (e.g. 16 for an 128-bit authentication tag) for each chunk of the plaintext.

A similar solution, as implemented in the AWS Encryption SDK, is to carefully separate plaintexts into equal-sized frames and have special rules governing IV/nonce selection. This lets you facilitate random access while still making the security of the whole system easy to reason about.

Can we do better than STREAM and message framing?

The most straightforward idea is to use a Merkle tree on the ciphertext with a stream cipher for extracting a distinct key for each leaf node. This can be applied to existing AEAD ciphertexts, out of band, to create a sort of deep authentication tag that can be used to authenticate any random subset of the message (provided you have the correct nonce/key).

However, I haven’t found the time to develop this idea into something that can be toyed with by myself and other researchers.

More Introductory Articles

Let’s face it:

Crypto is Hard. Let's Go Shopping.
Art by Riley

I’ve previously suggested an alternative strategy for programmers to learn cryptography. I’d like to do more posts covering introductory material for the topics I’m familiar with, so anyone who wants to actually employ my proposed strategy can carry themselves across the finish line.

Dissecting Dog-Whistles

Random fact: My fursona is a dhole–also known as a whistling dog.

Soatok is not a fox, he is a dhole.
Soatok is a dhole, not a fox. Art by Khia.

Coincidentally, I’m deeply fascinated by language, and planned to start a series analyzing dog-whistle language (especially the kind commonly used against queer subcultures).

However, the very nature of dog-whistle language provides a veneer of plausible deniability for the whistler’s intent, which makes it very difficult to address them in a meaningful way that doesn’t undermine your own credibility.

So, for the time being, this is on the back-burner.

Reader Questions

I’ve received quite a few questions via email and social media since I started this blog in April. The most obvious thing to do with these questions would be to periodically collate a bunch of them into a Questions and Answer style post.

However! I have an open source projected called FAQ Off that is way more efficient at the Q&A format than a long-form blog post. If you’d like to see it in action, start here.

Art by Kyume

General Punditry

I make a lot of dumb jokes, typically involving puns and other wordplay. Most of these live in private Telegram conversations with other furries, but a few have leaked out onto Twitter over the years.

A lot of them involve queer lingo.

Some of them involve furry in-jokes.

Some are just silly.

In my humble opinion, there haven’t been nearly enough puns on this blog (unless the embedded tweets above count).

Normally, this is where I’d proclaim, “I shall rectify this mistake” and proceed to make an ass out of myself, but I don’t like forced and obvious puns.

A lot of furries get this wrong: “Pawesome” is not clever, unless you’re talking to someone with a marsupial fursona. Then maybe.

The best puns come in two forms: They’re either so clever that you never saw it coming, or they’re just clever enough that the punchline lands at the same time you realized a bad pun was even possible.

Miscellaneous / Meta

The past few blog posts touched a little on political subjects (especially How and Why America Was Hit So Hard By COVID-19, but this short-term trend actually started with my Pride Month post).

At some point in the future, I may write a post dedicated to politics, but for the time being, it’s not really a subject I care enough about in and of itself to emphasize all the time.

Let me be clear: Being gay in America is inherently political. Developing technology is inherently political (although you don’t always realize it). Being a gay technologist, saying something politically significant is an inevitability.

But I’m not interested in the traditional roles and narratives that infect politics and political discourse. Labels are stupid and I’m not interested in being a Useful Idiot for anyone’s propaganda.

The most difficult thing about writing blog posts for me is coming up with a meaningful title. I’ve lost many hours due to the writer’s block that ensues.

The second most difficult thing for me is writing closing statements that aren’t totally redundant.

George Carlin – “Count the Superfluous Redundant Pleonastic Tautologies” – Skip to 11:05 if WordPress breaks something

Some bloggers like to sign off like they’re writing an email. “Happy hacking!” and whatnot. To me, this feels forced and inauthentic, like a bad pun.

So instead, here’s a totally sick piece of art I got from @MrJimmyDaFloof.

Furry artists are, like the rest of the fandom, amazing.

By Soatok

Security engineer with a fursona. Ask me about dholes or Diffie-Hellman!

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