Attacking a scripting language's cryptographic functions with Wycheproof


In 2016, Google released Project Wycheproof. Put into simple terms, Wycheproof is a set of testcases for cryptographic libraries which have been formulated to pick up mistakes and pitfalls of certain cryptographic algorithms. If any of the testcases fail, it may indicate a vulnerability in the cryptographic library. If any of the testcases fail, it may indicate a vulnerability in the cryptographic library. A recent example of such a pitfall is CVE-2022-21449/”Psychic Signatures” Java Vulnerability – something that Wycheproof would have picked up if anybody had bothered to use it.

Note: this research was conducted for/while working at Opera Software.

Nettle is a Cryptographic library written in C, offering capabilities for a variety of different algorithms. Nettle is the default (and only supported) cryptographic library used by Pike for its crypto-functions.

Pike is a general-purpose, high-level, dynamic programming language, with a syntax similar to that of C. It has bindings for many different libraries, including some cryptographic functionality.


To test both Nettle and Pike for defects, I created a Pike project which uses Wycheproof’s testcases where possible (not all tests concern algorithms that are supported in Pike) and reports any failures. This project was named PikeProof (also known as nettle-wycheproof-testsuite.) Note: although this project can check for issues in Pike, it does not guarantee that some issues do not exist in Nettle – Pike’s glue may ‘hide’ the issues in Nettle.

When writing the script, it quickly became apparent that I had to create a modular system that would plug-and-play different algorithms. This is because different algorithms require different initialisations, instructions, and designs. One of the biggest issues I had in creating this project was finding out how some algorithms are supposed to work – I’m no cryptography expert, so it took quite a long time to learn about how these algorithms should be used.

Importing Data

The testcases come in the form of JSON-formatted files. The Pikeproof script first imports the JSON files into an array, discarding any results that it does not know what to do with. This means that we have a list of algorithms that Pike supports which is checked (optionally, a ‘forced mode’ is included which only imports testcases from a specific algorithm), which can be easily added to.

Once the testcases have been imported, each testcase is iterated over, based on their so-called schema (i.e. the definition of the data for each of the imported files). A lookup table is used to determine which type of test and algorithm the testcases corresponds to.


Each schema may represent more than one algorithm. For example, both algorithms AES-EAX and AES-CCM use the same structure for the data of the testcases. Generally, this means the same tests/functions can be re-used for similar algorithms (i.e. the method of encrypting and decrypting are the same – just with a different state function used at the beginning), with the exact algorithm’s state function being dynamically called (using another lookup table).

For each algorithm, there is one main function which prepares all of the data from the imported testcases, before iterating over each of the testcases and running the individual tests/checks. Any failures are then recorded.

Exception Handling

As mentioned, the same functions may be used for multiple, similar algorithms. This means that the same instructions for, say, handling AES-EAX tests, are performed for those of AES-CCM – simply the initialisation of the state class differs. The assumption that functions could be shared for similar algorithms did not always hold, however. In the case of the AES-GCM algorithm (a test falling under the aead_test_schema.json schema), the 16-byte “tag size” could not manually be set by the caller, or Pike would produce an error – in the case of every other algorithm falling within that schema, the tag size could be set.

Instead of simply changing the script to handle the single exception of AES-GCM for the aead_test_schema.json testing function, I instead made a more dynamic and modular function, called handle_special_actions, which every testing function runs at the beginning, while the data is being handled. handle_special_actions loops through a table mapping specific algorithms to special functions which handle the exceptions needed. In the case of AES-GCM, we can see that the function unset_digest_size will only be run for data corresponding to the algorithm AES-GCM.

void handle_special_actions(mapping test, string algorithm) {
   foreach (special_action_table; string index; function value) {
      if(index == algorithm) {
mapping(string:function) special_action_table = ([
   /* GCM only allows a tag size of 16, therefore set the DigestSize to "null" */
   "AES-GCM": unset_digest_size,
void unset_digest_size(mapping test) {
   test["tagSize"] = "null";

Because handle_special_actions is called at the beginning of every test, it is easy to add new exception functions where needed, by simply adding an algorithm:function pair to the special_action_table table.


In total, five major vulnerabilities were discovered in Pike’s crypto handling (note: none of these bugs were due to issues in the Nettle library):

  1. Null Pointer Dereference in Crypto.AES.CCM
  2. Incorrect Digest Crypto.AES.CCM
  3. Infinite Loop Crypto.DSA
  4. Incorrect Signature Verification Crypto.DSA
  5. Incorrect Signature Verification Crypto.ECC.SECP_521R1

Some other minor issues were found, however, are likely not worth noting.


Based on a suggestion from Guido Vranken, I also tried running this script on a set of different architectures, since Nettle has assembly optimization for different CPUs. In the end, however, no extra issues were found.

The whole project itself was certainly something fun to work with – learning about different cryptographic algorithms, how they work and what they’re used for, and how to script in Pike.

The source code for this project can be found on GitHub.