Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Salt your passwords = Existing accounts password reset

This one is just a simple conclusion that I drew when a customer had MD5 hashed passwords in his database and we recommended them to salt them instead and use PBKDF as the algorithm of choice.

Now the customer added code in, but left the old code in as well which did the simple hash comparisons. So I asked them why and they said..for old users. I started thinking about it and it made sense. Here's why:

Think of it. I have a MD5 password in the database. Say I add a new column for 'salt' , generate 1000 random for each user..and add a new column. I then change the code to query the DB for the 'salt' as well, when a person logs in and run the user's password through the PBKDF function before comparing it with the hash. Looks good?

Sure. Except that no one will be able to login. Why? It's super secure now :). No one can find any more vulnerabilities inside. Jokes apart, what's happening here? Lets say the user's original password was abc123 and it had a 32 bit MD5 hash XYZ. Now when the user logs in something like MD5(user entered password) runs..hashes what he entered and compares it to the stored hash. Match? Login successful.

Now there's the salt. So when the user logs in, the new 'salt+pbkdf' code is triggered. So PBKDF(userpwd + salt) is calculated and compared to ..what? The stored MD5 hash. Is there ever going to be a match? Largely no. Because..there is no way you can predict the salt for a particular hash..BEFORE you store it in the DB. Remember those 1000 salts you generated? All random? Did you check if they'd give you the user's password after "decryption"? Nope.

So since there's no way to get the "right salt" for each user ID, the easiest solution is to force a password reset across users. The next time they login everything will automatically fall into place.

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