Eclipse CogniCrypt

Eclipse CogniCrypt is an intelligent open-source platform ensuring the secure usage of crypto components.

CogniCrypt’s static analysis automatically runs a static analysis on the code within Eclipse. The static analysis is based on CrySL rules that specify the correct use of an application programming interface (API). CrySL is a domain-specific language that allows to specify usage patterns of APIs. The static analysis reports any deviations from the usage pattern defined within the rules.

While the CrySL rules are adjustable, a developer using CogniCrypt is not expected to change the rules of CogniCrypt.

Eclipse Error Markers and their Meanings

CogniCrypt generates errors markes when the analysis detects incorrect and insecure parts of code. CogniCrypt displays error markers within the Eclipse IDE to warn the developer about insecure code. The error markers are associated to the respective line in the editor the errors is located at.

There are various different error types that CogniCrypt reports. Below, we distinguish the error types based on the warning the error marker reports.

  • "MD5 should be any of {SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512}" is a Constraint Error: the static analysis detects an incorrect String (or int) to flow as argument to a method call. CogniCrypt automatically suggest alternatives to fix the issue. The error message describes that MD5 should be replaced by and of the other String elements.

  • "Unexpected call to method reset. Expect a call to one of the following methods digest,update" marks a Typestate Error. The sequence of object calls made on an object is not according to its CrySL specification.

  • "Operation with Cipher object not completed. Expected call to update, doFinal." marks an Incomplete Operation Error. An incomplete operation errors appears, when a call on an object is missing and the object is garbage collected without having properly used. A typically example for such an error is a missing call to close on a FileWriter.

  • "Variable keyBytes was not properly randomized" is called a Required Predicate Error. Such an error is reported when the analysis infers that the combination of using several object is incorrect. The error message reports that the developer uses a variable keyBytes (containing some byte[]) for some cryptographic operation. The correct specification of the API requires that the byte array has been previously randomized (wich means correctly generate by some API).

Syntax of the Domain-Specific Language CrySL

The error markers are generated based on violations of rules. Rules in CogniCrypt are written in CrySL. CrySL is a domain-specific language for the specification of correct cryptograhy API uses in Java. The Eclipse plugin CogniCrypt ships with a XText editor that supports the CrySL syntax. CrySL encodes a white-list approach and specifies how to correctly use crypto APIs. We discuss some of the most important concepts of the rule language here, the research paper provides more detailed insides on the language.

Each CrySL rule is a specification of a single Java class. A short example of a CrySL rule for javax.crypto.Cipher is shown below.

SPEC    javax.crypto.Cipher
    java.lang.String trans;
    byte[] plainText; key;
    byte[] cipherText;
    Get: getInstance(trans); 
    Init: init(encmode, key); 
    doFinal: cipherText = doFinal(plainText); 
    Get, Init, (doFinal)+ 
    encmode in {1,2,3,4};
    part(0, "/", trans) in {"AES", "Blowfish", "DESede", ..., "RSA"};
    part(0, "/", trans) in {"AES"} => part(1, "/", trans) in {"CBC"};
    generatedKey[key, part(0, "/", trans)];
    encrypted[cipherText, plainText]; 

Each rule has a SPEC clause that lists the fully qualified class name the following specification holds for (in this case javax.crypto.Cipher) The SPEC clause is followed by the blocks OBJECTS, EVENTS, ORDER, CONSTRAINTS, REQUIRES and ENSURES. Within the CONSTRAINTS block each rule lists Integer and String constraints. The OBJECTS clause lists all variable names that can be used within all blocks of the rule. The EVENTS block lists API method calls that can be made on each Cipher object. When an event is encountered, the actual values of the events parameters are assigned to respective variable name listed in the rule. These parameter values can then be constrained by CONSTRAINTS.


The Cipher rule lists encmode in {1,2,3,4}; within its CONSTRAINTS block. The value encmode that is passed to method init(encmode, cert) is restricted to be one of the four integers. In other terms, whenever the function init is called, the value passed in as first parameter must be in the respective set. The constraint part(0, "/", trans) in {"AES", "Blowfish", "DESede", ..., "RSA"} refers to the fact that at the call to Cipher.getInstance(trans) the String trans must be correctly formed. The function part(0, "/", trans) splits the String at the character "/" and returns the first part. Hence the constraint restricts the first part prior of any "/" to be either "AES" or "RSA". The third constraint (part(0, "/", trans) in {"AES"} => part(1, "/", trans) in {"CBC"};) is a conditional constraint: If the first part of trans is "AES", then the second part of trans must be "CBC". For example, this conditional rule warns a developer writing Cipher.getInstance("AES/ECB/PKCS5Padding") instead of Cipher.getInstance("AES/CBC/PKCS5Padding").

The ORDER section

The ORDER section of a rule specifies a regular-expression like description of the excepted events to occur on each individual object. For the Cipher rule the order is Get, Init, (doFinal)+. The terms Get, Init and doFinal are labels and group a set of API methods that are defined within the EVENTS block. The regular expression stated in the ORDER section enforces the following order on a Cipher object: The object must be create by a Get, i.e., Cipher.getInstance, call, then Init must be called before eventually any (and at least one) times the method doFinal is called. A programmer who writes the program below contradicts the ORDER section of the CrySL rule: A call to init on the cipher object is missing between the getInstance and doFinal call (the missing call is commented out).

Cipher cipher = Cipher.getInstance("AES/ECB/PKCS5Padding");
//cipher.init(Cipher.ENCRYPT_MODE, secretKeySpec);

The ENSURES and the REQUIRES section

Cryptographic tasks are more complex and involve interaction of multiple object instances at runtime. For example for an encryption task with a Cipher instance, the Cipher object must be initialized with a securely generated key. The API of the Cipher object has a method init(encmode,key) where the second parameter is the respective key and is of type SecretKeySpec. For a correct use of the Cipher object, the key must be used correctly as well.

To cope with these object interactions, CrySL allows the specification of what we call predicates that are listed in the blocks REQUIRES and ENSURES. An object that is used in coherence with the rule receives the predicate listed in the ENSURES block. In turn, the block REQUIRES allows rules to force other objects to hold certain predicates.

The specification of the Cipher rule lists a predicate generatedKey[key,...] within its REQUIRES block. The variable name key refers to the same object that is used within the event Init: init(encmode, key); of the EVENTS block. Hence, the key object must receive this predicate which is listed in the rule for javax.crypto.SecretKeySpec.

SPEC javax.crypto.spec.SecretKeySpec
    java.lang.String alg;
    byte[] keyMaterial;
    c1: SecretKeySpec(keyMaterial, alg);
    generatedKey[this, alg];

Above is an excerpt of the rule for SecretKeySpec. The predicate generatedKey is listed within the ENSURES block of this rule. The static analysis labels any object of type SecretKeySpec by generatedKey when the analysis finds the object to be used correctly (with respect to its CrySL rule).

CrySL Rules for the JCA

CogniCrypt ships with a pre-defined set of CrySL rules. The standard rule set covers the correct specification of most classes of the Java Cryptographic Architecture (JCA). The JCA offers various cryptographic services. In the following, we describe these services with their respective classes and briefly summarize important usage constraints. All mentioned classes are defined in the packages javax.crypto and of the JCA.

The rule set is also publicly available .The definition of the CrySL rules are found in the files ending in .cryptsl named with the respective class name.

  • Asymmetric Key Generation: Asymmetric and symmetric cryptography requires different key formats. Asymmetric cryptography uses pairs of public and private keys. While one of the keys encrypts plaintexts to ciphertexts, the second key decrypts the ciphertext. The JCA models a key pair as class KeyPair and are generated by KeyPairGenerator.

  • Symmetric Key Generation: Symmetric cryptography uses the same key for encryption and decryption. The JCA models symmetric keys as type SecretKey, generated by a SecretKeyFactory or KeyGenerator. The SecretKeyFactory also enables password-based cryptography using PBEParameterSpec or PBEKeySpec.

  • Signing and Verification of Data: The class Signature of the JCA allows one to digitally sign data and verify a signature based on a private/public key pair. A Signature requires the key pair to be correctly generated, hence the rule for Signature requires a predicate from the asymmetric-key generation task.

  • Generation of Initialization Vectors: Initialization vectors (IVs) are used to add entropy to ciphertexts of encryptions. An IV must have enough randomness and must be properly generated. The JCA class IvParameterSpec wraps a byte array as an IV and it is required for the array to be randomized by SecureRandom. The CrySL rule for IvParameterSpec requires a predicate randomized.

  • Encryption and Decryption The key component of the JCA is represented by the class Cipher, which implements functionality to encrypt or decrypt data. Depending on the used algorithms, modes and paddings must be selected and keys and initialization vectors must be properly generated. Hence, the complete CrySL rule for Cipher requires many other cryptographic services to be executed securely earlier and list them in its respective REQUIRES clause.

  • Hashing & MACs´: There are two forms of cryptographic hash functions. A MAC is an authenticated hash that requires a symmetric keys, but there are also keyless hash functions such as MD5 or SHA-256. The JCA’s class Mac implements functionality for mac-ing, while keyless hashes are computed by MessageDigest.

  • Persisting Keys: Securely storing key material is an important cryptographic task for confidentiality and integrity of the encrypted data. The JCA class KeyStore supports developers in this task and stores the key material.

  • Cryptographically Secure Random-Number Generation: Randomness is vital in all aspects of cryptography. Java offers cryptographically secure pseudo-random number generators through SecureRandom. As discussed for PBEKeySpec, SecureRandom often acts as a helper and therefore many rules list the randomized predicate in their own REQUIRES section.