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Initial Design for Strong Encryption in RavenDB 4.0

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Initial Design for Strong Encryption in RavenDB 4.0

A review over what kind of encryption support will be offered in the newest version of the RavenDB NoSQL database.

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The previous post generated some great discussion, and we have done a bit of research in the meantime about what is going to be required in order to provide strong encryption support in RavenDB.

Note: I’m still no encryption expert. I’m basing a lot of what I have here on reading libsodium code and docs.

The same design goals that we had before still hold. We want to encrypt the data at the page level, but it looks like it is going to be impossible to just encrypt the whole page. The reason behind that is that encryption is actual a pure mathematical operation, and given the same input text and the same key, it is always going to generate the same value. Using that, you can create certain attacks on the data by exploiting the sameness of the data, even if you don’t actually know what it is.

In order to prevent that, you would use an initialization vector or nonce (seems to be pretty similar, with the details about them being relevant only with regards to the randomness requirements they have). At any rate, while I initially hoped that I can just use a fixed value per page, that is a big “nope, don’t do that”. So we need some place to store that information.

Another thing that I run into is the problem with modifying the encrypted text in order to generate data that can be successfully decrypted but is different from the original plain text. A nice example of that can be seen here (see the section: How to Attack Unauthenticated Encryption). So we probably want to have that as well.

This is not possible with the current Voron format. Luckily, one of the reasons we built Voron is so we can get it to do what we want. Here is what a Voron page will look after this change: 

  Voron page: 8 KB in size, 64 bytes header
+-------------------------------------------------------------------------+
|Page # 64 bits|Page metadata up to 288 bits  |mac 128 bits| nonce 96 bits|
+-------------------------------------------------------------------------+
|                                                                         |
|  Encrypted page information                                             |
|                                                                         |
|       8,128 bytes                                                       |
|                                                                         |
|                                                                         |
+-------------------------------------------------------------------------+

The idea is that when we need to encrypt a page, we’ll do the following:

  • First time we need to encrypt the page, we’ll generate a random nonce. Each time that we encrypt the page, we’ll increment the nonce.
  • We’ll encrypt the page information and put it in the page data section
  • As well as encrypting the data, we’ll also sign both it and the rest of the page header, and place that in the mac field.

The idea is that modifying either the encrypted information or the page metadata will generate an error because the tampering will be detected.

This is pretty much it as far as the design of the actual data encryption goes. But there is more to it.

Voron uses a memory mapped file to store the information (actually, several, with pretty complex interactions, but it doesn’t matter right now). That means that if we want to decrypt the data, we probably shouldn’t be doing that on the memory mapped file memory. Instead, each transaction is going to set aside some memory of its own, and when it needs to access a page, it will be decrypted from the mmap file into that transaction private copy. During the transaction run, the information will be available in plain text mode for that transaction. When the transaction is over, that memory is going to be zeroed. Note that transactions RavenDB tend to be fairly short term affairs. Because of that, each read transaction is going to get a small buffer to work with and if there are more pages accessed than allowed, it will replace the least recently used page with another one.

That leaves us with the problem of the encryption key. One option would be to encrypt all pages within the database with the same key, and use the randomly generated nonce per page and then just increment that. However, that does leave us with the option that two pages will be encrypted using the same key/nonce. That has a low probability, but it should be considered. We can try deriving a new key per page from the master page, but that seems… excessive. But it looks like there is another option is to generate use a block chipper, where we pass different block counter for each page.

This would require a minimal change to crypto_aead_chacha20poly1305_encrypt_detached, allowing to pass a block counter externally, rather than have it as a constant. I asked the question with more details so I can have a more authoritative answer about that. If this isn’t valid, we’ll probably use a nonce that is composed of the page # and the number of changes that the page has went through. This would limit us to about 2^32 modifications on the same page, though. We could limit the a single database file size to mere 0.5 Exabyte rather than 128 Zettabyte, but somehow I think we can live with it.

This just leave us with the details of key management. On Windows, this is fairly easy. We can use CryptProtectData or CryptUnprotectData to protect the key. A transaction will start by getting the key, doing its work, then zeroing all the pages it touched (and decrypted) and its key. This way, if there are no active transactions, there is no plaintext key in memory. On Linux, we can apparently use Libsecret to do this. Although it seems like there is a much higher cost to do so.

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Topics:
security ,database ,nosql ,ravendb

Published at DZone with permission of Oren Eini, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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