Kalyna is a block cipher that became a Ukrainian national standard in 2015. It supports block and key sizes of 128, 256, and 512 bits. Its structure looks like AES but optimized for 64-bit CPUs, and it has a complicated key schedule. Rounds range from 10-18, depending on block and key sizes.
Last Monday, the TSA announced a peculiar new security measure to take effect within 96 hours. Passengers flying into the US on foreign airlines from eight Muslim countries would be prohibited from carrying aboard any electronics larger than a smartphone. They would have to be checked and put into the cargo hold. And now the UK is following suit.
It's difficult to make sense of this as a security measure, particularly at a time when many people question the veracity of government orders, but other explanations are either unsatisfying or damning.
So let's look at the security aspects of this first. Laptop computers aren't inherently dangerous, but they're convenient carrying boxes. This is why, in the past, TSA officials have demanded passengers turn their laptops on: to confirm that they're actually laptops and not laptop cases emptied of their electronics and then filled with explosives.
Forcing a would-be bomber to put larger laptops in the plane's hold is a reasonable defense against this threat, because it increases the complexity of the plot. Both the shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab carried crude bombs aboard their planes with the plan to set them off manually once aloft. Setting off a bomb in checked baggage is more work, which is why we don't see more midair explosions like Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
Security measures that restrict what passengers can carry onto planes are not unprecedented either. Airport security regularly responds to both actual attacks and intelligence regarding future attacks. After the liquid bombers were captured in 2006, the British banned all carry-on luggage except passports and wallets. I remember talking with a friend who traveled home from London with his daughters in those early weeks of the ban. They reported that airport security officials confiscated every tube of lip balm they tried to hide.
Similarly, the US started checking shoes after Reid, installed full-body scanners after Abdulmutallab and restricted liquids in 2006. But all of those measure were global, and most lessened in severity as the threat diminished.
This current restriction implies some specific intelligence of a laptop-based plot and a temporary ban to address it. However, if that's the case, why only certain non-US carriers? And why only certain airports? Terrorists are smart enough to put a laptop bomb in checked baggage from the Middle East to Europe and then carry it on from Europe to the US.
Why not require passengers to turn their laptops on as they go through security? That would be a more effective security measure than forcing them to check them in their luggage. And lastly, why is there a delay between the ban being announced and it taking effect?
Even more confusing, the New York Times reported that "officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack." The Department of Homeland Security FAQ page makes this general statement, "Yes, intelligence is one aspect of every security-related decision," but doesn't provide a specific security threat. And yet a report from the UK states the ban "follows the receipt of specific intelligence reports."
Of course, the details are all classified, which leaves all of us security experts scratching our heads. On the face of it, the ban makes little sense.
One analysis painted this as a protectionist measure targeted at the heavily subsidized Middle Eastern airlines by hitting them where it hurts the most: high-paying business class travelers who need their laptops with them on planes to get work done. That reasoning makes more sense than any security-related explanation, but doesn't explain why the British extended the ban to UK carriers as well. Or why this measure won't backfire when those Middle Eastern countries turn around and ban laptops on American carriers in retaliation. And one aviation official told CNN that an intelligence official informed him it was not a "political move."
In the end, national security measures based on secret information require us to trust the government. That trust is at historic low levels right now, so people both in the US and other countries are rightly skeptical of the official unsatisfying explanations. The new laptop ban highlights this mistrust.
This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.
EDITED TO ADD: Here are two essays that look at the possible political motivations, and fallout, of this ban. And the EFF rightly points out that letting a laptop out of your hands and sight is itself a security risk -- for the passenger.
Over the past few months, I have been watching my blog comments decline in civility. I blame it in part on the contentious US election and its aftermath. It's also a consequence of not requiring visitors to register in order to post comments, and of our tolerance for impassioned conversation. Whatever the causes, I'm tired of it. Partisan nastiness is driving away visitors who might otherwise have valuable insights to offer.
I have been engaging in more active comment moderation. What that means is that I have been quicker to delete posts that are rude, insulting, or off-topic. This is my blog. I consider the comments section as analogous to a gathering at my home. It's not a town square. Everyone is expected to be polite and respectful, and if you're an unpleasant guest, I'm going to ask you to leave. Your freedom of speech does not compel me to publish your words.
I like people who disagree with me. I like debate. I even like arguments. But I expect everyone to behave as if they've been invited into my home.
I realize that I sometimes express opinions on political matters; I find they are relevant to security at all levels. On those posts, I welcome on-topic comments regarding those opinions. I don't welcome people pissing and moaning about the fact that I've expressed my opinion on something other than security technology. As I said, it's my blog.
So, please... Assume good faith. Be polite. Minimize profanity. Argue facts, not personalities. Stay on topic. If you want a model to emulate, look at Clive Robinson's posts.
Schneier on Security is not a professional operation. There's no advertising, so no revenue to hire staff. My part-time moderator -- paid out of my own pocket -- and I do what we can when we can. If you see a comment that's spam, or off-topic, or an ad hominem attack, flag it and be patient. Don't reply or engage; we'll get to it. And we won't always post an explanation when we delete something.
My own stance on privacy and anonymity means that I'm not going to require commenters to register a name or e-mail address, so that isn't an option. And I really don't want to disable comments.
I dislike having to deal with this problem. I've been proud and happy to see how interesting and useful the comments section has been all these years. I've watched many blogs and discussion groups descend into toxicity as a result of trolls and drive-by ideologues derailing the conversations of regular posters. I'm not going to let that happen here.
There are more CIA documents up on WikiLeaks. It seems to be mostly MacOS and iOS -- including exploits that are installed on the hardware before they're delivered to the customer.
EDITED TO ADD (3/25): Apple claims that the vulnerabilities are all fixed. Note that there are almost certainly other Apple vulnerabilities in the documents still to be released.
This is a weird story, and I'm skeptical of some of the details. Presumably Apple has decided that it's smarter to spend the money on secure backups and other security measures than to pay the ransom. But we'll see how this unfolds.
Every year, the NSA has a competition for the best cybersecurity paper. Winners get to go to the NSA to pick up the award. (Warning: you will almost certainly be fingerprinted while you're there.)
I have written a paper with Orin Kerr on encryption workarounds. Our goal wasn't to make any policy recommendations. (That was a good thing, since we probably don't agree on any.) Our goal was to present a taxonomy of different workarounds, and discuss their technical and legal characteristics and complications.
Abstract: The widespread use of encryption has triggered a new step in many criminal investigations: the encryption workaround. We define an encryption workaround as any lawful government effort to reveal an unencrypted version of a target's data that has been concealed by encryption. This essay provides an overview of encryption workarounds. It begins with a taxonomy of the different ways investigators might try to bypass encryption schemes. We classify six kinds of workarounds: find the key, guess the key, compel the key, exploit a flaw in the encryption software, access plaintext while the device is in use, and locate another plaintext copy. For each approach, we consider the practical, technological, and legal hurdles raised by its use.
The remainder of the essay develops lessons about encryption workarounds and the broader public debate about encryption in criminal investigations. First, encryption workarounds are inherently probabilistic. None work every time, and none can be categorically ruled out every time. Second, the different resources required for different workarounds will have significant distributional effects on law enforcement. Some techniques are inexpensive and can be used often by many law enforcement agencies; some are sophisticated or expensive and likely to be used rarely and only by a few. Third, the scope of legal authority to compel third-party assistance will be a continuing challenge. And fourth, the law governing encryption workarounds remains uncertain and underdeveloped. Whether encryption will be a game-changer or a speed bump depends on both technological change and the resolution of important legal questions that currently remain unanswered.
The paper is finished, but we'll be revising it once more before final publication. Comments are appreciated.
WikiLeaks has started publishing a large collection of classified CIA documents, including information on several -- possibly many -- unpublished (i.e., zero-day) vulnerabilities in computing equipment used by Americans. Despite assurances that the US government prioritizes defense over offense, it seems that the CIA was hoarding vulnerabilities. (It's not just the CIA; last year we learned that the NSA is, too.)
Publishing those vulnerabilities into the public means that they'll get fixed, but it also means that they'll be used by criminals and other governments in the time period between when they're published and when they're patched. WikiLeaks has said that it's going to do the right thing and privately disclose those vulnerabilities to the companies first.
This process seems to be hitting some snags:
This week, Assange sent an email to Apple, Google, Microsoft and all the companies mentioned in the documents. But instead of reporting the bugs or exploits found in the leaked CIA documents it has in its possession, WikiLeaks made demands, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.
WikiLeaks included a document in the email, requesting the companies to sign off on a series of conditions before being able to receive the actual technical details to deploy patches, according to sources. It's unclear what the conditions are, but a source mentioned a 90-day disclosure deadline, which would compel companies to commit to issuing a patch within three months.
I'm okay with a 90-day window; that seems reasonable. But I have no idea what the other conditions are, and how onerous they are.
Honestly, at this point the CIA should do the right thing and disclose all the vulnerabilities to the companies. They're burned as CIA attack tools. I have every confidence that Russia, China, and several other countries can hack WikiLeaks and get their hands on a copy. By now, their primary value is for defense. The CIA should bypass WikiLeaks and get the vulnerabilities fixed as soon as possible.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.