Eclipse CogniCrypt

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

The CrySL Language

Thanks to Theofilos Petsios from Amazon Web Services for providing a definition file for syntax highlighting for CrySL in VIM. You can download the definitions here.

Both CogniCryptGEN and CogniCryptSAST are 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. CogniCryptGEN generates code using the rules, CogniCryptSAST in turn reports any deviations from the usage pattern defined within the rules.

Syntax of the Domain-Specific Language CrySL

Rules in CogniCrypt are written in CrySL. CrySL is a domain-specific language for the specification of correct cryptography API uses in Java. The Eclipse plugin CogniCrypt ships with an XText editor that supports the CrySL syntax. CrySL generally 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 insights on the language. CogniCrypt ships with a default rule set for the Java Cryptographic Architecture (JCA). At the bottom of this page, you may find a description of this rule set. On top of this rule set, rule sets for BouncyCastle, both for its lightweight API as well as JCA provider, and Google Tink are available for download from within the CogniCrypt preferences. Custom rules may also be added.

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};
	alg(trans) in {"AES", ..., "RSA"};
	alg(trans) in {"AES"} => mode(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 alg(trans) in {"AES", ..., "RSA"} refers to the fact that at the call to Cipher.getInstance(trans) the String trans must be correctly formed. Hence the constraint restricts the algorithm to be either "AES" or "RSA" through the alg function. The third constraint (alg(trans) in {"AES"} => mode(trans) in {"CBC"};) is a conditional constraint: If the algorithm of trans is "AES", then the mode 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 expected 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, 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 establish a rely-guarantee mechanism. Predicates 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).

On-the-fly Addition or Modification of CrySL Rules

All CrySL rules currently used by CogniCrypt are present in the repository named Crypto-API-Rules. As of April 2020, it contains rules for the four APIs mentioned above. You need to clone the corresponding project and import it as a Maven project into Eclipse where you have already installed CogniCrypt and the CrySL plugins. These plugins let you update the CrySL rules on the fly. You can edit them or even add new rules. CogniCrypt automatically parses these rules and may take them into account in any future analyses and code generations. You need to enable this feature in the CogniCrypt preferences first, though.

The below tutorial describes how to modify CrySL rules on the fly. The first screenshot shows an example code which uses KeyGenerator that is created with correct algorithm, namely “AES”, and later initialized with a proper keySize i.e. 128. Hence, the plugin doesn’t show any error markers.

Now let us change the keySize to a incorrect value (Eg. 200) as shown in second screenshot. The plugin displays a error marker upon saving the changes.

The below screenshot shows the value of error marker displayed by the plugin.

The following screenshot shows the original CrySL rule for KeyGenerator class.

Now let us modify the CrySL rule of KeyGenerator class so that the init method also takes 200 as its keySize and later save the corresponding changes.

Upon saving the new CrySL rule, the plugin would re-run the analysis based your new rules. Consequently, no error markers would be displayed as shown below.

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.

CrySL Rules for the Bouncy Castle

The below rule set covers the specifications of most classes in the Bouncy Castle (BC). In the following, we describe all the services with their respective classes and briefly summarize important usage constraints. All mentioned classes are defined in the lightweight crypto packages org.bouncycastle.crypto.* of the BC.

The rule set is also publicly available

  • Asymmetric Key Generation: In BC every asymmetric cryptography has a separate key pair generator. For example RSA has RSAKeyPairGenerator, DSA has DSAKeyPairGenerator and so on. These asymmetric or public/private, cipher key pair generators should conform to an interface AsymmetricCipherKeyPairGenerator. Every key pair generator has its corresponding key generation parameters which specify the keys being generated. For example, RSA has RSAKeyGenerationParameters and DSA has DSAKeyGenerationParameters both of which conforms to its base class KeyGenerationParameters.
  • Symmetric Key Generation: The BC has a base class named CipherKeyGenerator for symmetric or secret, cipher key generators. Every symmetric algorithm has specific key generator class which extends this base class. For example DES has DESKeyGenerator which extends the base class to specify the parameters.
  • Encryption and Decryption: There are two variants of Cipher equivalent in Bouncy Castle. One is BlockCipher and the other one is AsymmetricBlockCipher both of which are interfaces. All the symmetric engines & modes should conform to the former interface and all the asymmetric counterparts should adhere to the latter. BC also provides classes named BufferedBlockCipher and BufferedAsymmetricBlockCipher which are buffer wrappers for block cipher and asymmetric block cipher respectively, allowing the input to be accumulated in a piecemeal fashion until final processing.
  • Hashing & MACs´: The BC has a base interface named Mac for implementations of message authentication codes (MACs) and Digest for implementations of hashing.
  • Cryptographically Secure Random-Number Generation: The BC uses Java offered cryptographically secure pseudo-random number generator SecureRandom for randomness.