AES Coding Tips for Developers

NOTE: WinZip® users do not need to read or understand the information contained on this page. It is intended for developers of Zip file utilities.

This document contains information that may be helpful to developers and other interested parties who wish to support the AE-1 and AE-2 AES encryption formats in their own Zip file utilities. WinZip Computing makes no warranties regarding the information provided in this document. In particular, WinZip Computing does not represent or warrant that the information provided here is free from errors or is suitable for any particular use, or that the file formats described here will be supported in future versions of WinZip. You should test and validate all code and techniques in accordance with good programming practice.

This information supplements the basic encryption specification document found here.

This document assumes that you are using Dr. Brian Gladman's AES encryption package. Dr. Gladman has generously made public a sample application that demonstrates the use of his encryption/decryption and other routines, and the code samples shown below are derived from this sample application. Dr. Gladman's AES library and the sample application are available from the AES project page on Dr. Gladman's web site.

Generating a salt value

Please read the discussion of salt values in the encryption specification.

Dr. Gladman has provided a pseudo-random number generator in the files PRNG.C and PRNG.H. You may find this suitable for generating salt values. These files are included in the sample package available through the AES project page on Dr. Gladman's web site.

Here are guidelines for using Dr. Gladman's generator. Note that the generator is used rather like an I/O stream: it is opened (initialized), used, and finally closed. To obtain the best results, it is recommended that you initialize the generator when your application starts and close it when your application closes. (If you are coding in C++, you may wish to wrap these actions in a C++ class that initializes the generator on construction and closes it on destruction.)

  1. You will need to provide an entropy function in your code for initialization of the generator. The entropy function need not be particularly sophisticated for this use. Here is one possibility for such a function, based primarily upon the Windows performance counter:
    int entropy_fun(
     unsigned char buf[],
     unsigned int len)
        unsigned __int64 pentium_tsc[1];
        unsigned int     i;
        static unsigned int num = 0;
        // this sample code returns the following sequence of entropy information
        // - the current 8-byte Windows performance counter value
        // - an 8-byte representation of the current date/time
        // - an 8-byte value built from the current process ID and thread ID
        // - all subsequent calls return the then-current 8-byte performance
        //      counter value
        switch (num)
        case 1:
            // use a value that is unlikely to repeat across system reboots
            GetSystemTimeAsFileTime((FILETIME *)pentium_tsc);
        case 2:
            // use a value that distinguishes between different instances of this
            // code that might be running on different processors at the same time
            unsigned __int32 processtest = GetCurrentProcessId();
            unsigned __int32 threadtest = GetCurrentThreadId();
            pentium_tsc[0] = processtest;
            pentium_tsc[0] = (pentium_tsc[0] << 32) + threadtest;
        case 0:
            // fall through to default case
            // use a rapidly-changing value
            //  Note: check QueryPerformanceFrequency() first to
            //  ensure that QueryPerformanceCounter() will work.
            QueryPerformanceCounter((LARGE_INTEGER *)pentium_tsc);
        for(i = 0; i < 8 && i < len; ++i)
            buf[i] = ((unsigned char*)pentium_tsc)[i];
        return i;
    Note: the required prototype for the entropy function is defined in PRNG.H.

  2. Initialize the generator by calling prng_init(), providing the addresses of your entropy function and of an instance of a prng_ctx structure (defined in PRNG.H). The prng_ctx variable maintains a context for the generator and is used as a parameter for the other generator functions. Therefore, the variable's state must be maintained until the generator is closed.
    prng_ctx ctx;
    prng_init(entropy_fun, &ctx);
    You only need to do this once per application session (as long as you keep the "stream" open).

  3. To obtain a sequence of random bytes of arbitrary size, use prng_rand(). This code obtains 16 random bytes, suitable for use as a salt value for 256-bit AES encryption:
    unsigned char buffer[16];
    prng_rand(buffer, sizeof(buffer), &ctx);

    Note that the ctx parameter is the same prng_ctx variable that was used in the initialization call.

  4. When you are done with the generator (this would normally be when your application closes), close it by calling prng_end:

    Again, the ctx parameter is the same prng_ctx variable that was used in the initialization call.

Encryption and decryption

The actual encryption and decryption of data are handled quite similarly, and again are rather stream-like: a stream is "opened", data is passed to it for encryption or decryption, and then it is closed. The password verifier is returned when the stream is opened, and the authentication code is returned when the stream is closed.

Here is the basic technique:

  1. Initialize the "stream" for encryption or decryption and obtain the password verification value.

    There is no difference in the initialization, regardless of whether you are encrypting or decrypting:

    fcrypt_ctx zctx;     // the encryption context
    int rc = fcrypt_init(
      KeySize,       // extra data value indicating key size
      pszPassword,     // the password
      strlen(pszPassword), // number of bytes in password
      achSALT,       // the salt
      achPswdVerifier,   // on return contains password verifier
      &zctx);       // encryption context

    The return value is 0 if the initialization was successful; non-zero values indicate errors. Note that passwords are null-terminated ANSI strings; embedded nulls must not be used. (To avoid incompatibilities between the various character sets in use, especially in different versions of Windows, users should be encouraged to use passwords containing only the "standard" characters in the range 32-127.)

    The function returns the password verification value in achPswdVerifier, which must be a 2-byte buffer. If you are encrypting, store this value in the Zip file as indicated by the encryption specification. If you are decrypting, compare this returned value to the value stored in the Zip file. If they are different, then either the password provided by your user was incorrect or the encrypted file has been altered in some way since it was encrypted. (Note that if they match, there is still a 1 in 65,536 chance that an incorrect password was provided.)

    The initialized encryption context (zctx) is used as a parameter to the encryption/decryption functions. Therefore, its state must be maintained until the "stream" is closed.

  2. Encrypt or decrypt the data.

    To encrypt:

      pchData, // pointer to the data to encrypt
      cb,   // how many bytes to encrypt
      &zctx); // encryption context

    To decrypt:

      pchData, // pointer to the data to decrypt
      cb,   // how many bytes to decrypt
      &zctx); // decryption context

    You may need to call the encrypt or decrypt function multiple times, passing in successive chunks of data in the buffer. For AE-1 and AE-2 compatibility, the buffer size must be a multiple of 16 bytes except for the last buffer, which may be smaller. For efficiency, a larger buffer size such as 32,768 would generally be used.

    Note: to encrypt zero-length files, simply skip this step. You will still obtain and use the password verifier (step 1) and authentication code (step 3).

  3. Close the "stream" and obtain the authentication code.

    When encryption/decryption is complete, close the "stream" as follows:

    int rc = fcrypt_end(
      achMAC, // on return contains the authentication code
      &zctx); // encryption context

    The return value is the size of the authentication code, which will always be 10 for AE-1 and AE-2. The authentication code itself is returned in your buffer at achMAC, which is an array of char, sized to hold at least 10 characters. If you are encrypting, store this value in the Zip file as indicated by the encryption specification; if you are decrypting, compare this value to the value stored in the Zip file. If the values are different, either the password is incorrect or the encrypted data has been altered subsequent to storage.

    Note that decryption can fail even if the encrypted data is unaltered and the password verifier was correct in step 1. The password verifier is useful as a quick way to detect most incorrect passwords, but it is not perfect and on rare occasions (1 out of 65,536) it will fail to detect an incorrect password. It is therefore important for you to check the authentication code on completion even though the password verifier was correct.


Change history

Changes made in document version 1.04, July, 2008:

  1. Sample Entropy Function

    The sample entropy function was changed to include information near the very beginning of the entropy stream that's unique to the day and to the process and thread.

Document version: 1.04
Last modified: July 21, 2008

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