ANNOUNCE: Serious bug in Nettle's ecdsa_verify

Niels Möller nisse at
Tue Mar 16 09:07:56 CET 2021

I've been made aware of a bug in Nettle's code to verify ECDSA
signatures. Certain signatures result in the ecc point multiply function
being called with out-of-range scalars, which may give incorrect
results, or crash in an assertion failure. It's an old bug, probably
since Nettle's initial implementation of ECDSA.

I've just pushed fixes for ecdsa_verify, as well as a few other cases of
potentially out-of-range scalars, to the master-updates branch. I haven't
fully analysed the implications, but I'll describe my current

I think an assertion failure, useful for a denial-of-service attack, is
easy on the curves where the bitsize of q, the group order, is not an
integral number of words. That's secp224r1, on 64-bit platforms, and

Even when it's not possible to trigger an assertion failure, it's easy
to produce valid-looking input "signatures" that hit out-of range
intermediate scalar values where point multiplication may misbehave.
This applies to all the NIST secp* curves as well as the GOST curves.

To me, it looks very difficult to make it misbehave in such a way that
ecdsa_verify will think an invalid signature is valid, but it might be
possible; further analysis is needed. I will not be able to analyze it
properly now, if anyone else would like to look into it, I can provide a
bit more background.

ed25519 and ed448 may be affected too, but it appears a bit harder to
find inputs that hit out of range values. And since point operations are
inherently more robust on these curves, I think they will produce
correct results as long as they don't hit the assert.

Advise on how to deal best with this? My current plan is to prepare a
3.7.2 bugfix release (from a new bugfix-only branch, without the new
arm64 code). Maybe as soon as tomorrow (Wednesday, european time), or in
the weekend.


Niels Möller. PGP-encrypted email is preferred. Keyid 368C6677.
Internet email is subject to wholesale government surveillance.

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