UK Government Promoting Backdoor-Enabled Voice Encryption Protocol

The UK government is pushing something called the MIKEY-SAKKE protocol to secure voice. Basically, it's an identity-based system that necessarily requires a trusted key-distribution center. So key escrow is inherently built in, and there's no perfect forward secrecy. The only reasonable explanation for designing a protocol with these properties is third-party eavesdropping.

Steven Murdoch has explained the details. The upshot:

The design of MIKEY-SAKKE is motivated by the desire to allow undetectable and unauditable mass surveillance, which may be a requirement in exceptional scenarios such as within government departments processing classified information. However, in the vast majority of cases the properties that MIKEY-SAKKE offers are actively harmful for security. It creates a vulnerable single point of failure, which would require huge effort, skill and cost to secure ­ requiring resource beyond the capability of most companies. Better options for voice encryption exist today, though they are not perfect either. In particular, more work is needed on providing scalable and usable protection against man-in-the-middle attacks, and protection of metadata for contact discovery and calls. More broadly, designers of protocols and systems need to appreciate the ethical consequences of their actions in terms of the political and power structures which naturally follow from their use. MIKEY-SAKKE is the latest example to raise questions over the policy of many governments, including the UK, to put intelligence agencies in charge of protecting companies and individuals from spying, given the conflict of interest it creates.

And GCHQ previously rejected a more secure standard, MIKEY-IBAKE, because it didn't allow undetectable spying.

Both the NSA and GCHQ repeatedly choose surveillance over security. We need to reject that decision.

Posted on January 22, 2016 at 2:23 PM • 16 Comments

Comments

J.L.PicardJanuary 22, 2016 2:39 PM

Bruce:
The only reasonable explanation for designing a protocol with these properties is third-party eavesdropping.

Typical that this would be an accepted standard.

Bah! Bah!January 22, 2016 5:25 PM

"NSA and GCHQ repeatedly choose surveillance over security. We need to reject that decision."

Who says "we" are able to "reject" MS. Indeed from a pragmatic stance, "we" don't get a vote a chance to object..."they" deem themselves above the rule of law.

That's the real problem.

BooJanuary 22, 2016 6:10 PM

Talking of encryption and GCHQ ... the popular web app pen testing tool 'Burp Suite Professional' (releases.portswigger.net) has been updated to include some new SSL checks in its passive scanning module. One of those checks is for 'unencrypted communications'. It made me smile with the graphic they chose to show off their new feature .... some 'victim' website with the following URL: http://www.gchq.gov.uk. Made me laugh. Not that they really cared for SSL in the first place ....

NameJanuary 22, 2016 11:59 PM

Important to keep in mind that the US and UK govts use each other to do what is illegal in their own jurisdictions. It's beyond "cozy".

To me the biggest problem of all is that Ed Snowden's revelations never led to meaningful debate at the public level (AFAIK). I don't know how much to blame Glenn Greenwald, but he is no knight in shining armor. He has turned out to be a lying creep with utter disregard for truth in certain matters. The same applies to several other writers at the Intercept_. The Intercept_ itself has an odor of tabloidism about it.

Snowden made only one mistake: picking Greenwald. At this point, WikiLeaks is looking more and more like who he should have chosen.

Who?January 23, 2016 6:11 AM

@ Name

Glenn Greenwald is to be blamed. His handwaving journalism with relation to government surveillance is the problem. Targeting the illegal surveillance problem to "dumb apes"-like readers does not help. Most people do not care about privacy because privacy has no value at all to them. On the other hand, knowledgeable people were in a better position to help but it requires releasing technical documentation.

As I see it Snowden revelations are like WikiLeaks: it has done a real damage to governments around the world and to U.S. based industry too, but it has not really helped making the world a better place to live in.

Perhaps Snowden had higher expectations with relation to citizens than it should be. Now the damage to industry and government is done, but the few people that really cares about privacy and security have no better tools to fight against mass surveillance, only some vague guidance.

It is true that, at least, a few citizens that did not care about security at all now use some sort of encryption. But I do not see it as a win.

Some JokerJanuary 23, 2016 7:23 AM

The author of that article makes a good point - this protocol passes only the 1st EFF criterion, fails the 2nd to 4th, and the 5th-7th criterion are only halfway met as the final products may not be open for inspection:

Criterion 1 is met (calls are encrypted from initiator to responder) but criterion 2 is not (the network provider generates the private key so can discover the session key and thus eavesdrop on calls). Criterion 3 fails because if the network provider is compromised then an impersonator could also know the responder’s private key. Criterion 4 also is not met because past communications can be decrypted if the responder’s private key, or network provider’s master key, is discovered.

...

Criteria 5, 6 and 7 cannot be assessed because they apply to the product rather than the algorithms the product uses, though here MIKEY-SAKKE at least helps. The protocol is well documented as an Internet standard, is reasonably simple, and has been externally evaluated to some extent.

The real question is whether you are stupid enough to trust the government in this day and age? The answer should be a resounding NO. These clowns should be mocked, which reminds me...

GCHQ: The only part of government that actually listens.

The NSA Director walks into a bar.
Bartender: I've got a new joke for you.
NSA Director: Heard it.

Hello Verizon? I'm interested in your share everything plan...

Due to the government spy scandal, sales of the classic George Orwell book '1984' have skyrocketed. So the fallout is worse than we thought. It's making Americans read.

This spying scandal at the White House isn't going away. In fact, it was just announced that President Obama will meet a group of regular Americans to hear their concerns about the White House surveillance program. Or more accurately, to RE-HEAR them.

We live in what’s called an open society, which of course means they open our emails, open our phone records, and open our medical records.

ramriotJanuary 23, 2016 8:54 AM

Although you judge harshly it is a fact that the supposed bastions of democracy the US & UK differ widely in their democratic construction. Specifically the UK has not had a bill of rights or a constitution to guard citizens rights until the recent adoption of the European bill of human rights.

Because of this, it was possible for the UK government to institute legally binding bills going back almost a century that require communications providers to include the capability of third party interception in equipment. Thus the reason why this mainstream VOIP solution has key escrow.

It is only the inexorable onward march of moores law and the weakening of warrant laws that has made the use of this technology for more than specifically targeted interception (bulk collection) possible.

Which is where the communications operators can and sometimes do take a small stand in sticking to the letter of the law in protecting their customers privacy from injudicial exposure.

Therefore, while there is still a need for targeted interception then perhaps with the current and future technology there is a need for open oversight external to the authorities. What that looks like, I don't know.

Who?January 23, 2016 12:23 PM

@ Some Joker

Due to the government spy scandal, sales of the classic George Orwell book '1984' have skyrocketed. So the fallout is worse than we thought. It's making Americans read.

Nice to see Americans read again. However a more appropriate book would be Huxley's Brave New World—they would understand better how our world works.

INOC | NOC For Cloud ApplicationJanuary 25, 2016 12:52 AM

I like the idea of MIKEY-SAKKE because it protects the security of phone calls, which in reality is the most crucial mode of conversation and is one of the most targeted by hackers because of the amount of significant information being transmitted through a phone call. Just take for example the Securus Technology hacking which caused for millions of attorney-client privilege phone calls being released to the public. However, like other forms of technology, such innovation can have its own disadvantages. I agree that such innovation can create conflict of interest, as well as internal infiltration because you’re leaving all the surveillance to an agency. And given the recent turn of events, its really hard to trust anyone. Let’s just hope that the agency who will handle MIKEY-SAKKE would stick to its goal.

PeteRepeatJanuary 25, 2016 6:49 AM

I'm sorry, but you are 100% wrong, a backdoored whatever protects exactly NOTHING .
Besides, what has Securus Technology got to do with this ? The point of that scandal is that Securus Technology was wiretapping client-attorney phone-calls .

MarkJanuary 26, 2016 5:48 AM

Any protocol endorsed by any government intelligence agency should not be trusted, especially by the Brits and Yanks.

As mentioned above, they're deeply in bed with each other, a kind of perverse wife swap orgy over the Atlantic.

Just look at Dual_EC_DRBG.

MarkJanuary 26, 2016 6:13 AM

@Who?

Ah, my American friend, that is a very, typical (American) view on the world. People are in fact quite upset in Europe that their governments spy on them. They're also upset that the Yanks abuse their power to spy on the world in league with their tech companies.

I suggest you get out a little bit more, perhaps even try leaving the country. (It's actually quite safe; you're more likely to get killed in a mass shooting in America than by a terrorist overseas. Make sure that you're not on the No-Fly List, though, because perhaps you're so innocent that you can't be arrested but so guilty that you can't board a plane in the Land of the Free.)

What damage has been done to governments all around the world? I must have missed that one. If you think that the world is a safer place when governments are allowed not to follow the law, kill people as they wish, and spy on people without any cause, then you are a lost soul.

ianfJanuary 26, 2016 10:12 AM


Choice cuts from Monday morning quarterbacks Name and Who?'s gabfest:

[…] Ed Snowden's revelations never led to meaningful debate at the public level

Strange, I don't recall either of you two actively engaging in that debate, creating local PACs, contacting corporations, policy makers, media, ASKING ALOUD all sorts of unpalatable questions that arose on the back of Snowden's disclosures. Demanding answers. Or perhaps your speciality is passivity and then complaining, of, that nothing happens.


I don't know how much to blame Glenn Greenwald, but he is no knight in shining armor.

Please accept my apologies that GG isn't Clark Kent either… this must be tough for you to swallow that the Superman, Batman, et al evil-fighting heroes of your childhood turned out to be bunkum.


He has turned out to be a lying creep with utter disregard for truth in certain matters.

Rrrrright-o, as unsubstantiated an accusation as they come. You're in good company, though, as "Who?" also is known for similar generalizations that, when challenged, s/he then can not vouch for.


Snowden made only one mistake: picking Greenwald. At this point, WikiLeaks is looking more and more like who he should have chosen.

Quite. Given that there were plenty of other suitable journos with proven iconoclastic record practically standing in line, ready to be picked by our soon-to-be-fugitive.

I also see that you discounted the thought that—perhaps—Snowden knew a thing or two about WikiLeaks' internal conflicts; and/or that he may have wanted to broaden the fount from which disclosures would flow, so as not to rely on a single known source (then and still embroiled with the Swedish judiciary, because big shot Assange couldn't afford a hotel bed of his own).


[…] Glenn Greenwald is to be blamed. […] knowledgeable people were in a better position to help but it requires releasing technical documentation.

The knowledgeable people being, I take it, yourselves. Pity that you didn't reach out to the soon-whistleblower Snowden offering your "better position" services, and that he then had to rely on such a disreputable conduit as GG.

BTW. you don't seem to have grokked that a prerequisite for Snowden remaining a free man in—for him temporary, otherwise pretty permanent asylum—Russia was arriving there with no documentation on him whatsoever (apart from that in his head). He was of course extensively debriefed by the FSB at the airport, but, once they realized that he made sure not to bring anything with him that could be termed treason, they could do zilch to milch him.

    That said, I hope Ed thought this through sufficiently far ahead and arranged for a "Doomsday Option"… like automatic release of some GRAVELY DISRUPTING INTEL should he find himself incommunicado, thus unable to prevent it by issuing periodic HOLD command.
[…] Perhaps Snowden had higher expectations with relation to citizens than it should be. Now the damage to industry and government is done, but the few people that really cares about privacy and security have no better tools to fight against mass surveillance, only some vague guidance.


Perhaps. Or maybe he just knew that that Pandora's box of illegalities and TLAs lying needed to be opened come what may, opened wide up by somebody willing to put his unblemished idealistic life on the line, or the world would never awaken from its slumber. Which he succeeded with, even though the dividends of that are too minute yet, and too slow in coming for your entitled instant gratification.

    And as for there being "only vague guidance" for the rest of us to stave off the encroaching Permanent HIGH TERROR ALERT!!!! Security State, blame the knowledgeable egocentrics of this forum, say, rather than our lone wolf with a whistle in Russia.

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