Password vs data entropy

Ed Gerck edgerck at
Fri Oct 26 12:14:37 EDT 2007

Alex Pankratov wrote:
> Or, rephrasing, what should the entropy of the password be 
> compared to the entropy of the value being protected (under
> whatever keying/encryption scheme) ? 

Eliminating all other variables, such as the hash algorithm used
to derive a key from  the password (see previous thread) and
the computational load of the decryption effort per trial, one
might think that the entropy of the password alone would
determine the attack effort needed to decrypt the value
being protected (the payload).

However, the real question to ask is not the password's
(Shannon) entropy but the workload necessary to find the

To give a few examples:

- if the value being protected can be efficiently
tested (eg, by using it as a key to decrypt a short English
text), then the workload necessary to find the password will
be reduced even if the password entropy is high.

- the workload necessary to find the password may be actually
trivial if the password is generated with a non-flat distribution
(even though the entropy of the distribution may be quite high,
such as 128 bit).

- if salt is not used, or used poorly, a dictionary attack
can be quite effective to reduce the workload.

What matters here is the expected cost of password search,
not the password or payload Shannon entropy. For some pointers
on this discussion, and why high Shannon entropy does not
mean high workload, see

Ed Gerck

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