AF_ALG support in GnuTLS

The Linux kernel implements a set of cryptographic algorithms to be used by other parts of the kernel. These algorithms can be accessed through the internal API; notable consumers of this API are encrypted network protocols such as WireGuard, as well as data encryption as in fscrypt. The kernel also provides an interface for user-space programs to access the kernel crypto API.

GnuTLS has recently gained a new crypto backend that uses the kernel interface in addition to the user-space implementation. There are a few benefits of having it. The most obvious one is performance improvement: while the existing user-space assembly implementation has comparable performance to the in-kernel software emulation, the kernel crypto implementation also enables workload offloading to hardware accelerators, such as Intel QAT cards. Secondly, it brings support for a wider variety of CPU architectures: not only IA32 and AArch64, but also PowerPC and s390. The last but not least is that it could be used as a potential safety net for the crypto algorithms implementation: deferring the crypto operations to the kernel means that we could have an option to workaround any bugs or compliance (such as FIPS140) issues in the library.

As for the implementation, the kernel interface is exposed through the AF_ALG socket family along with a Netlink interface to retrieve information about algorithms; although it is not straightforward to directly work with the interface, libkcapi provides a nice abstraction over the underlying system calls, which we use as a basis for the integration with GnuTLS. František Krenželok in our team picked the initial patch set provided by Stephan Mueller and has successfully moved it towards the finish line.

With the upcoming 3.7.2 release, GnuTLS user programs could enjoy a performance boost (under certain circumstances) through this new crypto backend. Next up, we are aiming to integrate KTLS as well. Stay tuned.

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