The Keccak sponge function family

Guido Bertoni1, Joan Daemen1,2, Michaël Peeters1 and Gilles Van Assche1

2Radboud University

Is SHA-3 slow?

New bounds on differential trails in Keccak-f

Announcing the Ketje cryptanalysis prize

First 6-round collision challenge solved

NIST SP 800-185 officially released

First 4-round pre-image challenge solved

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Software and other files


The figures above are available under the Creative Commons Attribution license. In short, they can be freely used, provided that attribution is properly done in the figure caption, either by linking to this webpage or by citing the article where the particular figure first appeared.


This page is dedicated to the cryptographic sponge function family called Keccak, which has become the FIPS 202 (SHA-3) standard.

Keccak in a nutshell

Keccak is a family of sponge functions. The sponge function is a generalization of the concept of cryptographic hash function with infinite output and can perform quasi all symmetric cryptographic functions, from hashing to pseudo-random number generation to authenticated encryption.

For a quick introduction, we propose a pseudo-code description of Keccak. The reference specification, analysis, reference and optimized code and test vectors for Keccak can be found in the file section.

As primitive used in the sponge construction, the Keccak instances call one of seven permutations named Keccak-f[b], with b=25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 or 1600. In the scope of the SHA-3 contest, we proposed the largest permutation, namely Keccak-f[1600], but smaller (or more “lightweight”) permutations can be used in constrained environments. Each permutation consists of the iteration of a simple round function, similar to a block cipher without a key schedule. The choice of operations is limited to bitwise XOR, AND and NOT and rotations. There is no need for table-lookups, arithmetic operations, or data-dependent rotations.

Keccak has a very different design philosophy from its predecessor RadioGatún. This is detailed in our paper presented at Dagstuhl in 2009.

Strengths of Keccak


Keccak inherits the flexibility of the sponge and duplex constructions.

Design and security


Latest news

12 June 2017 — Is SHA-3 slow?

In a recent post, Adam Langley complains that “SHA-3 is slow”. Similar comments appear from time to time on the web (see also David Wong's post). But what does it mean precisely? Let us dig into it.

Hardware and software

There are a couple of ambiguities in this statement. Let's start with the first one: where would it be “slow”?

Keccak, the winner of the SHA-3 competition, is blazing fast when implemented on dedicated (ASIC) or programmable (FPGA) hardware. Its throughput for a given circuit area is an order of magnitude higher than SHA-2 or any of the SHA-3 finalists. And if you care beyond plain speed, note that it also consumes much less energy per bit. In this sense, Keccak is a green cryptographic primitive.

Keccak has other implementation advantages, like efficient protections against side-channel attacks, but let's go to the point: what seems to be at stake is the speed in software.

Did you say “SHA-3”?

How come then, that SHA3-512 is slower than SHA-512 on modern processors? This brings up to the second ambiguity of the statement: what is “SHA-3”?

“SHA-3” initially refers to the target of the competition that NIST organized from 2008 to 2012, namely a new hash standard that would complement SHA-2 in case it is broken. Hence, the initially-intended outcome of the competition is a set of four functions called SHA3-224, SHA3-256, SHA3-384, and SHA3-512.

If “SHA-3” means these four functions, then indeed SHA3-512 is unnecessarily slowed down by an excessive security parameter. Due to an absurd rule in the competition, followed by a fierce controversy in 2013, the parameters of SHA3-512 are stuck at offering 512 bits of pre-image security, a nonsense for anyone who can compute powers of two.

It turned out that Keccak has more to offer than just the drop-in replacements for SHA-{224, 256, 384, 512}. In FIPS 202 (“the SHA-3 standard”), NIST also approves two extendable-output functions (XOFs) called SHAKE128 and SHAKE256. These generalize the traditional hashing paradigm by allowing any arbitrary output length and by being parameterized by their security strength, instead of their output length.

If the term “SHA-3” embraces the aforementioned XOFs, then SHAKE{128, 256} are on par with SHA-2 on common processors. But could “SHA-3” actually be super fast in software?


To answer this last question, let us go further down the standardization road. Recently, NIST released the SP 800-185 standard (“SHA-3 derived functions”), which proposes a framework for customizable functions, called cSHAKE, that generalize SHAKE{128, 256}. And, as an application of this framework, it approves the ParallelHash functions. These functions internally use a parallel mode of operation, which an implementation can exploit to speed-up the processing.

With these standard functions included, “SHA-3” can actually outperform SHA-2 and even SHA-1 (broken but usually considered fast) for long messages on modern processors.

Security and performance hand-in-hand

Of course, a cryptographic functions should carefully balance speed and security. Keccak makes use of sound design properties, like fast linear and differential propagation or purposely weak alignment, and it clearly stays away from the ARX (modular additions, rotations and exclusive or's) approach. What we understand of Keccak now made us wonder: aren't 24 rounds too much?

KangarooTwelve is a recently proposed variant of Keccak, in which the number of rounds has been reduced to 12—yet, with exactly the same round function, no tweak! It may seem like a drastic reduction, but it is in line with our proposed solution for authenticated encryption, Keyak, submitted to the CAESAR competition. And, more importantly, this wouldn't have been possible if Keccak hadn't had the chance of getting such a rather extensive scrutiny from cryptanalysis experts throughout the years—and to resist to them.

KangarooTwelve is defined on the “SHA-3” components from FIPS 202 and may please the aficionados of extreme software speed. But beware: with such speeds, the hard drive or the network connection has long become the bottleneck for most applications.

Speed measurements of various hash functions on Skylake

Gilles, Guido, Joan, Michaël and Ronny
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15 March 2017 — New bounds on differential trails in Keccak-f

In a joint work with Silvia Mella (STMicroelectronics and University of Milano), we propose a framework for bounding the weight of differential trails. We apply this on Keccak-f with widths of 200, 400, 800 and 1600 bits to show that no trail of weight less than 92 over 6 rounds exist in either of these Keccak-f instances. Should a 6-round differential trail be used as part of a collision attack, the ratio of complying pairs is thus guaranteed to be at most 2-92.

This work improves over our results of FSE 2012, both extending the coverage of differential trails both over the different Keccak-f widths and over a higher weight per round. In particular, Silvia was able to scan all 3-round trails up to weight 45. At 15 per round, and given the exponential growth of trail number per weight, this is a significant improvement over previous works.

Silvia presented her work at FSE 2017. The paper can be found here.

6 March 2017 — Announcing the Ketje cryptanalysis prize

We are happy to announce a new cryptanalysis prize! The subject of the stress-test is the authenticated encryption scheme Ketje.

We are particularly interested in attacks aiming at recovering the internal state, the secret key or at forging a MAC. Other attacks would be appreciated as well. Competitors have the freedom to increase the input rate of Ketje. The attack can be applied to any of the four instances of Ketje.

Who wins the prize will be decided by consensus in the Keccak team. Some hints:

The Ketje authenticated encryption scheme has already established such a solid reputation in Belgium that a beer was named after it. Unfortunately, it is already sold out since 2011. Instead, the winner will receive a selection of Belgian beers.

The attacks should be submitted to the crypto-competitions -at- mailing list (with ketje -at- in CC) before January 31st, 2018.

1 March 2017 — First 6-round collision challenge solved

We congratulate Ling Song1,2,3, Guohong Liao4,1 and Jian Guo1 for solving the 6-round collision challenge on Keccak[r=1440, c=160].

The collision search took a computational effort of about 250 evaluations of the Keccak-f rounds. It follows an improvement of the technique previously used for solving the 5-round collision challenge in May last year (then solved by Jian Guo, Meicheng Liu, Ling Song and Kexin Qiao).

  1. Cryptanalysis Taskforce, Temasek Laboratories @ Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  2. State Key Laboratory of Information Security, Institute of Information Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  3. Data Assurance and Communication Security Research Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  4. South China Normal University, China

23 December 2016 — NIST SP 800-185 officially released

NIST released the SP 800-185 standard with useful new functions based on Keccak: cSHAKE, KMAC, TupleHash and ParallelHash.

Yesterday, NIST published the SP 800-185 standard [PDF]. It contains the following new functions based on Keccak:

These new functions all support the 128-bit and 256-bit security strengths. They all consistently support domain separation through the user-chosen customization string input. And they all support variable ouput length in a natural way.

22 December 2016 — First 4-round pre-image challenge solved

We congratulate Meicheng Liu1 and Jian Guo2 for being the first ones to solve a 4-round pre-image challenge in the Keccak Crunchy Crypto Collision and Pre-image Contest!

They found a pre-image of a given 80-bit digest for Keccak[r=1440, c=160] reduced to its first 4 rounds. Up to now, only pre-image challenges up to 3 rounds had been solved.

  1. State Key Laboratory of Information Security, Institute of Information Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  2. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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Contact Information

Email: keccak-at-noekeon-dot-org