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NaCl cryptography primitives for small MCUs

8 Jan 2014

This software is in the public domain.

Download the archive here:

The files included in this archive implement the following cryptographic primitives:

They are optimized to reduce code and stack size on small (8 and 16-bit) MCUs, possibly at a slight performance penalty. Note that while these functions produce the same results as NaCl, the API is different. In particular:

Here's a code snippet which takes an XSalsa20 key and nonce and produces an encrypted-and-authenticated ciphertext:

#include "box.h"

#define MSG_SIZE    100

uint8_t key[CRYPTO_BOX_KEY_SIZE];
uint8_t nonce[CRYPTO_BOX_XNONCE_SIZE + CRYPTO_BOX_NONCE_SIZE];
uint8_t subkey[CRYPTO_BOX_KEY_SIZE];
uint8_t plaintext[MSG_SIZE];
uint8_t ciphertext[MSG_SIZE + CRYPTO_BOX_AUTH_SIZE];

/* Assume key, nonce and plaintext are initialized... */

/* Derive a Salsa20 subkey */
crypto_xsalsa20_subkey(subkey, key, nonce);

/* Encrypt and MAC the plaintext */
memcpy(ciphertext + CRYPTO_BOX_AUTH_SIZE, plaintext, MSG_SIZE);
crypto_box(ciphertext + CRYPTO_BOX_AUTH_SIZE, /* message */
           MSG_SIZE,
           ciphertext, /* authenticator buffer */
           subkey,
           nonce + CRYPTO_BOX_XNONCE_SIZE);

This example shows how you'd use the crypto_box() function to encrypt from one buffer to another. However, on a small device you'd probably prefer to assemble the message and encrypt it in-place.

To authenticate and decrypt a message, use crypto_box_open() with the same subkey and Salsa20 nonce used with crypto_box():

uint8_t r;

r = crypto_box_open(ciphertext + CRYPTO_BOX_AUTH_SIZE, /* message */
                    MSG_SIZE,
                    ciphertext, /* authenticator buffer */
                    subkey,
                    nonce + CRYPTO_BOX_XNONCE_SIZE);

The function returns zero on success, or non-zero if the authenticator is bad. If the authentiator is invalid, decryption is not performed and the message buffer is left unchanged.

A test program and a set of test vectors (generated with NaCl) is included. To run tests:

gcc -O1 -Wall -o test *.c
./test < test_data.txt

As stated above, this code aims to use as little program memory and stack space as possible, to make it usable on small MCUs. The following data was gathered with:

First, output from size:

   text    data     bss     dec     hex filename
   1174       0       0    1174     496 box.o
   1004       0       0    1004     3ec poly1305.o
   1572       0       0    1572     624 salsa20.o
   3750       0       0    3750     ea6 (TOTALS)

Then from avstack.pl ($call_cost = 4):

  Func                               Cost    Frame   Height
------------------------------------------------------------------------
> crypto_box                          192       90        5
> crypto_box_open                     188       86        5
> crypto_xsalsa20_subkey              163       76        4
  ks_block                            102       12        4
  crypto_salsa20                       90       78        3
  crypto_poly1305_eval                 89       37        2
  crypto_hsalsa20                      87       75        3
  mul_modp                             52       52        1
  dround                               12        6        2
  op7                                   6        6        1
  op13                                  6        6        1
  op18                                  6        6        1
  op9                                   6        6        1
  add_chunk                             5        5        1
  crypto_salsa20_defconst               4        4        1
  mix                                   4        4        1
  crypto_poly1305_prepare_r             4        4        1
  crypto_poly1305_compare               4        4        1