Welcome!

Web 2.0 Authors: Tim Hinds, Carmen Gonzalez, Jnan Dash, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Java, XML, SOA & WOA, AJAX & REA, Apache, Security

Java: Article

Designing a Java Cryptography Header

Encrypt personal files, exchange confidential messages and authenticate the sender

Designing and implementing a hybrid encryption application is a big challenge but without a supporting infrastructure it's almost impossible. There are open source libraries that allow you to encrypt a file but only provide the translation technique. After the information has been encrypted, how do you know what algorithm was used, who you encrypted it, what version did you used, etc. In order to decrypt the protected message or file, a well-defined cryptographic header provides all the information required. This also applies if the encrypted data is digitally signed and the recipient wants to validate the signature.

This article will address one of the critical components of a support infrastructure by providing a design of a cryptographic header used to precede encrypted and/or digitally signed messages and files. The header is used within an application known as DocuArmor that was written using Java and the Cryptography library from the BouncyCastle organization and designed by Logical Answers Inc. The header will store information used when encrypting and/or digitally signing a message or file and allow the recipient to decrypt the information and/or verify the digital signature. With a properly designed header, a person can encrypt their personal files as well as exchange confidential messages and authenticate the sender.

Hybrid Encryption
In order to encrypt personal files and exchange protected data, we use a hybrid technique with two types of encryption, symmetric and asymmetric.

Symmetric encryption uses a single key to hide the message and reveal the message. There are several symmetric algorithms available such as AES (the Advanced Encryption Standard) but the important thing to remember is that the file can be encrypted and decrypted using the same key. An example is the Caesar cipher that shifts the letters of the alphabet by a specific number. If the shift is 2 (single key) then we get the following translation; a=c, b=d, c=e, ..., z=b.

Asymmetric encryption uses a pair of keys (public, private) to hide and reveal the message and the RSA algorithm is most commonly used. The RSA algorithm was credited in 1977 to Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman. Sometimes referred to as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), the pubic key is used to encrypt data and the private key is used to decrypt data.

Figure 1: Public and Private Key Functions

The hybrid technique uses the symmetric key to encrypt a file. The asymmetric public key is used to encrypt the symmetric key and is placed in the header. When the recipient receives an encrypted file, the encrypted symmetric key is extracted from the header. The encrypted symmetric key is decrypted using the private key. The file is decrypted using the symmetric key.

The same pair of keys can be used with digital signatures. The private key is used to generate a digital signature from a file and inserted into the header. The public key is used to verify the authenticity of the signature.

When two people want to exchange encrypted files, they each generate a pair of asymmetric keys and exchange a copy of their public keys. By using the other person's public key, they can encrypt a file, storing the cryptographic information in the header and then e-mail it to the recipient. The recipient will use the header to extract a symmetric key with their private key and decrypt the accompanying file. If a digital signature is included, the recipient can authenticate the sender.

Figure 2: Exchange of Encrypted Files

Cryptographic Header
When a file is encrypted, digitally signed or both, a Cryptographic header is placed in front of the resulting file and has the following structure. The structure consists of two sections, the header and the encrypted/plain file contents.

Figure 3: Encrypted File Structure

The header structure contains information required to reverse the encryption process and decrypt the contents of the file or verify the digital signature. The header contains the total length, an ID, version, and two sections containing encryption and digital signature information. Using Java, you can write out the contents of header within a byte stream as well as read it back in.

Figure 4: Cryptographic Header Structure

  • Total Len: Contains the total length of the header (stored as a 4 byte integer)
  • Header ID: Contains the string "LAHEADER" to identify the file (16 bytes)
  • Header Version: Structural version of the header (stored as a 4 byte integer)
  • Encryption Information: Holds the algorithm, mode, encrypted symmetric key, etc.
  • Digital Signature Information: Holds digital signature

Encryption Information
The Encryption Information structure contains information that was used to encrypt the contents of the file and later decrypt the file. The symmetric key and initialization vector is encrypted with the recipient's asymmetric public key. The recipient could be the owner if you are encrypting a file for yourself or another user you want to send confidential information to.

An additional field has been allocated to allow the encryption of the symmetric key with another set of asymmetric keys. For example, if owner A is sending an encrypted file to another person B, the symmetric key can be encrypted with B's public key as well as A's public key so that either person can decrypt the file.

Alternatively, an employee can encrypt a file with their public key and a corporation could insert an encrypted symmetric key into the header using their asymmetric keys. The corporation's asymmetric keys can be a Certifying Authority (CA), which can be used to issue employee keys.

Figure 5: Encryption Information Structure

  • Encrypt Flag: (Y/N - 2 bytes) specifies whether the file is encrypted.
  • Decrypt ID Length: (integer - 4 bytes) length in chars(bytes) of the Key ID.
  • Decrypt ID: (size varies) an identifier of the RSA keys used in the encryption/decryption process. It is the alias associated to the asymmetric encryption keys (e.g., JaneDoe_12ff).
  • Other Decrypt ID Length: (integer - 4 bytes) length in chars(bytes) of the Key ID.
  • Other Decrypt ID: (size varies) an identifier of the RSA keys used in the encryption/decryption process. It can be the alias or the common name (e.g., JaneDoe_12ff or Logical Answers CA).
  • Symmetric Key Algorithm: (integer - 4 bytes) specifies the symmetric key algorithm used to encrypt the file. The default value is 1=AES.
  • Symmetric Key Mode: (integer - 4 bytes) specifies the symmetric key block cipher mode used to enhance confidentiality. The default value is 5=Segmented Integer Counter mode (CTR).
  • Symmetric Key Padding: (integer - 4 bytes) specifies the type of padding for block cipher. The default value is 1=No Padding
  • Wrapped Symmetric Key Length: (integer - 4 bytes)
  • Wrapped Symmetric Key: (size varies) symmetric key used to encrypt/decrypt the file and encrypted with the asymmetric key.
  • Initialization Vector Length: (integer - 4 bytes)
  • Initialization Vector: (byte[] - size varies) vector used with the symmetric encryption process.
  • Other Wrapped Symmetric Key Length: (integer - 4 bytes)
  • Other Wrapped Symmetric Key: (size varies) symmetric key used to encrypt/decrypt the file and encrypted with another person's asymmetric key.
  • Other Initialization Vector Length: (integer - 4 bytes)
  • Other Initialization Vector: (byte[] - size varies) vector used with the symmetric encryption process.

Digital Signature Information
The Digital Signature Information structure contains information used to add or verify a digital signature generated from the contents of the file. The digital signature is generated with the owner's private key using a specific algorithm and then inserted into the header. When the recipient receives the signed file, they can use the signer's public key to validate its authenticity. If the signature is authenticated, it implies the file has not been altered and the holder of the private key generated the signature.

Figure 6: Digital Signature Information Structure

  • Signed Flag: (Y/N - 2 bytes) specifies whether the file contains a digital signature
  • Signature Algorithm: (integer - 4 bytes) specifies the algorithm used to generate the digital signature. The default value is 12= SHA512WithRSAEncryption
  • Verify Signature Cert Name Length: (integer - 4 bytes) length in chars(bytes) of the filename of the certificate used to verify a digital signature
  • Verify Signature Cert Name: (size varies) filename of the certificate holding the RSA public key used to verify the digital signature of a file (e.g., JaneDoe_fa39.cer).
  • Signature Date/Time: (long - 8 bytes) date the digital signature was generated.
  • Signature Length: (integer - 4 bytes)
  • Signature: (size varies) holds digital signature generated with RSA private key and signature engine

File Naming Conventions
The Cryptographic header holds information that designates which keys were used to encrypt a file but it's not physically accessible without reading it in first. With proper naming conventions, you can determine who the intended recipient is for encrypted files - whether it is for yourself or a colleague. When you generate your pair of asymmetric encryption keys using Java, store them in a file called a key store. The key store holds a pair of asymmetric keys as an entry with a unique alias. The alias typically consists of the initial of your first name and your last name. To make it more unique, you can extract 4 hex digits from your public key and append an underline and the hex digits to the alias. For example, if the person's name was Jane Smith, then the resulting unique alias would be jsmith_ad5e. A certificate holds a person's public key and the alias would be used in the filename, as jsmith_ad5e.cer. Similarly, the key store holding the pair of asymmetric keys would be saved as, jsmith_ad5e.jks.

Following the unique alias analogy, Jane Smith could encrypt files for herself and the file name would be appended with her alias and an appropriate file extension. For example, if Jane encrypted a personal file, myTaxes.txt, then the result would be myTaxes.txt.jsmith_ad5e.aes. If Jane wanted to send her colleague Dick an encrypted document, she would use Dick's certificate to encrypt it. If Dick's certificate is djones_9fa2, Jane could encrypt the file, comments.doc, for Dick and the resulting file would be comments.doc.djones_9fa2.aes. When Dick receives the file, he knows it is for him by recognizing his alias on the file name.

The unique alias is stored within the header. This reinforces the importance of having a well-defined Cryptographic header for implementing encryption within your applications.

Benefits
A well-defined cryptographic header stores the information required to encrypt, decrypt and digitally sign a file. Along with facilitating the implementation of standard cryptographic functions, the header also provides the following benefits:

  • The header allows for the protection of personal files as well as the exchange of confidential data.
  • Using the stored digital signature, the recipient can determine if the sender is valid and whether file has been altered.
  • The header allows either the sender or recipient to decrypt the encrypted file since both would encrypt the symmetric key with their public key.
  • Using the concept of a Certifying Authority pair of asymmetric keys, a corporation, group, or family could issue pairs of asymmetric keys to their employees or members and decipher files encrypted by them in case of emergencies.
  • The header allows for using different combinations of symmetric algorithms, modes, padding and key sizes to be used to encrypt information.
  • The header version allows for enhancements to be added to the structure for implementing new functions and still support older versions.

References and Other Technical Notes
Software requirements:

Recommended Reading:

  • "Beginning Cryptography with Java" by David Hook.
  • "The Code Book" by Simon Singh

More Stories By James H. Wong

James H. Wong has been involved in the technology field for over 30 years and has dual MS degrees in mathematics and computer science from the University of Michigan. He worked for IBM for almost 10 years designing and implementing software. Founding Logical Answers Corp in 1992, he has provided technical consulting/programming services to clients, providing their business with a competitive edge. With his partner they offer a Java developed suite of “Secure Applications” that protect client’s data using the standard RSA (asymmetric) and AES (symmetric) encryption algorithms.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
We’re no longer looking to the future for the IoT wave. It’s no longer a distant dream but a reality that has arrived. It’s now time to make sure the industry is in alignment to meet the IoT growing pains – cooperate and collaborate as well as innovate. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine the key ingredients to IoT success and identify solutions to challenges the industry is facing. The deep industry expertise behind this presentation will provide attendees with a leading edge view of rapidly emerging IoT oppor...
“With easy-to-use SDKs for Atmel’s platforms, IoT developers can now reap the benefits of realtime communication, and bypass the security pitfalls and configuration complexities that put IoT deployments at risk,” said Todd Greene, founder & CEO of PubNub. PubNub will team with Atmel at CES 2015 to launch full SDK support for Atmel’s MCU, MPU, and Wireless SoC platforms. Atmel developers now have access to PubNub’s secure Publish/Subscribe messaging with guaranteed ¼ second latencies across PubNub’s 14 global points-of-presence. PubNub delivers secure communication through firewalls, proxy ser...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...