Encyclopedia of Cryptography and Security

2005 Edition
| Editors: Henk C. A. van Tilborg

Timing attack

  • Franç Koeune
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-23483-7_432


When the running time of a cryptographic device is not constant, this time may leak information about the secret parameters involved, so that careful timing measurement and analysis may allow to recover the system's secret key. This idea first appeared in the scientific literature in 1996 [7].

Targeting implementation specificities, timing attacks belong to the side-channel attacks family, of which they were one of the first representatives (see also side-channel analysis).

Time Measurement

To conduct the attack, the adversary needs to collect a set (sample) of messages, together with their processing time by the cryptographic device. Running time might be obtained by measuring the question-answer delay, by monitoring the processor activity, etc.

One privileged target for timing attacks—as well as other side-channel attacks—is that of smart cards. A classical smart card (like defined by the ISO 7816 standard) is not equipped by an internal clock, but has its clock ticks...

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© International Federation for Information Processing 2005

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  • Franç Koeune

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