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4.1.3.3 Office Binary Document RC4 Encryption

Office

The Office binary document RC4 encryption method is not recommended, and ought to be used only when backward compatibility is required.

Passwords are limited to 255 Unicode characters.

Office binary document RC4 encryption has the following known cryptographic weaknesses:

  • The key derivation algorithm is not an iterated hash, as described in [RFC2898], which allows brute-force attacks against the password to be performed rapidly.

  • Encryption begins with the first byte, and does not throw away an initial range as is recommended to overcome a known weakness in the RC4 pseudorandom number generator.

  • No provision is made for detecting corruption within the encryption stream, which exposes encrypted data to bit-flipping attacks.

  • While the derived encryption key is actually 128 bits, the input used to derive the key is fixed at 40 bits, and current hardware enables brute-force attacks on the encryption key without knowing the password in a relatively short period of time so that even if the password cannot easily be recovered, the information could still be disclosed.

  • Some streams might not be encrypted.

  • Depending on the application, key stream reuse could occur, potentially with known plaintext, implying that certain portions of encrypted data could be either directly extracted or easily retrieved.

  • Document properties might not be encrypted, which could result in information leakage.

Because of the cryptographic weaknesses of the Office Binary Document RC4 Encryption, it is considered easily reversible and therefore is not recommended when storing sensitive materials.

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