Improving storage of password-encrypted secrets in end-to-end encrypted apps

Many apps with client-side encryption that use passwords derive both encryption and server authentication keys from them.

One such example is Bitwarden, a cross-platform password manager. It uses PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA-256 with 100,000 rounds to derive an encryption key from a user’s master password, and an additional 1-round PBKDF2 to derive a server authentication key from that key. Bitwarden additionally hashes the authentication key on the server with 100,000-iteration PBKDF2 “for a total of 200,001 iterations by default”. In this post I’ll show you that these additional iterations for the server-side hashing are useless if the database is leaked, and the actual strength of the hashing is only as good as the client-side PBKDF2 iterations plus an AES decryption and one HMAC. I will also show you how to fix this.