USN-170-1: gnupg vulnerability

20 August 2005

gnupg vulnerability

A security issue affects these releases of Ubuntu and its derivatives:

  • Ubuntu 5.04
  • Ubuntu 4.10

Software Description


Serge Mister and Robert Zuccherato discovered a weakness of the symmetrical encryption algorithm of gnupg. When decrypting a message, gnupg uses a feature called “quick scan”; this can quickly check whether the key that is used for decryption is (probably) the right one, so that wrong keys can be determined quickly without decrypting the whole message.

A failure of the quick scan will be determined much faster than a successful one. Mister/Zuccherato demonstrated that this timing difference can be exploited to an attack which allows an attacker to decrypt parts of an encrypted message if an “oracle” is available, i. e. an automatic system that receives random encrypted messages from the attacker and answers whether it passes the quick scan check.

However, since the attack requires a huge amount of oracle answers (about 32.000 for every 16 bytes of ciphertext), this attack is mostly theoretical. It does not have any impact on human operation of gnupg and is not believed to be exploitable in practice.

The updated packages disable the quick check, which renders this timing attack impossible.

Update instructions

The problem can be corrected by updating your system to the following package versions:

Ubuntu 5.04
Ubuntu 4.10

To update your system, please follow these instructions: