September 15, 1999
by Bruce Schneier
Founder and CTO
Counterpane Internet Security, Inc.
A free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on computer security and cryptography.
Back issues are available at http://www.schneier.com. To subscribe or unsubscribe, see below.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Bruce Schneier
In this issue:
- Open Source and Security
- NSA Key in Microsoft Crypto API?
- Counterpane—Featured Research
- Extra Scary News
- Counterpane News
- The Doghouse: E*Trade
- Factoring a 512-bit Number
- Comments from Readers
As a cryptography and computer security expert, I have never understood the current fuss about the open source software movement. In the cryptography world, we consider open source necessary for good security; we have for decades. Public security is always more secure than proprietary security. It’s true for cryptographic algorithms, security protocols, and security source code. For us, open source isn’t just a business model; it’s smart engineering practice.
Open Source Cryptography
Cryptography has been espousing open source ideals for decades, although we call it “using public algorithms and protocols.” The idea is simple: cryptography is hard to do right, and the only way to know if something was done right is to be able to examine it.
This is vital in cryptography, because security has nothing to do with functionality. You can have two algorithms, one secure and the other insecure, and they both can work perfectly. They can encrypt and decrypt, they can be efficient and have a pretty user interface, they can never crash. The only way to tell good cryptography from bad cryptography is to have it examined.
Even worse, it doesn’t do any good to have a bunch of random people examine the code; the only way to tell good cryptography from bad cryptography is to have it examined by experts. Analyzing cryptography is hard, and there are very few people in the world who can do it competently. Before an algorithm can really be considered secure, it needs to be examined by many experts over the course of years.
This argues very strongly for open source cryptographic algorithms. Since the only way to have any confidence in an algorithm’s security is to have experts examine it, and the only way they will spend the time necessary to adequately examine it is to allow them to publish research papers about it, the algorithm has to be public. A proprietary algorithm, no matter who designed it and who was paid under NDA to evaluate it, is much riskier than a public algorithm.
The counter-argument you sometimes hear is that secret cryptography is stronger because it is secret, and public algorithms are riskier because they are public. This sounds plausible, until you think about it for a minute. Public algorithms are designed to be secure even though they are public; that’s how they’re made. So there’s no risk in making them public. If an algorithm is only secure if it remains secret, then it will only be secure until someone reverse-engineers and publishes the algorithms. A variety of secret digital cellular telephone algorithms have been “outed” and promptly broken, illustrating the futility of that argument.
Instead of using public algorithms, the U.S. digital cellular companies decided to create their own proprietary cryptography. Over the past few years, different algorithms have been made public. (No, the cell phone industry didn’t want them made public. What generally happens is that a cryptographer receives a confidential specification in a plain brown wrapper.) And once they have been made public, they have been broken. Now the U.S. cellular industry is considering public algorithms to replace their broken proprietary ones.
On the other hand, the popular e-mail encryption program PGP has always used public algorithms. And none of those algorithms has ever been broken. The same is true for the various Internet cryptographic protocols: SSL, S/MIME, IPSec, SSH, and so on.
The Best Evaluation Money Can’t Buy
Right now the U.S. government is choosing an encryption algorithm to replace DES, called AES (the Advanced Encryption Standard). There are five contenders for the standard, and before the final one is chosen the world’s best cryptographers will spend thousands of hours evaluating them. No company, no matter how rich, can afford that kind of evaluation. And since AES is free for all uses, there’s no reason for a company to even bother creating its own standard. Open cryptography is not only better—it’s cheaper, too.
The same reasoning that leads smart companies to use published cryptography also leads them to use published security protocols: anyone who creates his own security protocol is either a genius or a fool. Since there are more of the latter than the former, using published protocols is just smarter.
Consider IPSec, the Internet IP security protocol. Beginning in 1992, it was designed in the open by committee and was the subject of considerable public scrutiny from the start. Everyone knew it was an important protocol and people spent a lot of effort trying to get it right. Security technologies were proposed, broken, and then modified. Versions were codified and analyzed. The first draft of the standard was published in 1995. Different aspects of IPSec were debated on security merits and on performance, ease of implementation, upgradability, and use.
In November 1998, the committee published a slew of RFCs—one in a series of steps to make IPSec an Internet standard. And it is still being studied. Cryptographers at the Naval Research Laboratory recently discovered a minor implementation flaw. The work continues, in public, by anyone and everyone who is interested. The result, based on years of public analysis, is a strong protocol that is trusted by many.
On the other hand, Microsoft developed its own Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) to do much the same thing. They invented their own authentication protocol, their own hash functions, and their own key-generation algorithm. Every one of these items was badly flawed. They used a known encryption algorithm, but they used it in such a way as to negate its security. They made implementation mistakes that weakened the system even further. But since they did all this work internally, no one knew that PPTP was weak.
Microsoft fielded PPTP in Windows NT and 95, and used it in their virtual private network (VPN) products. Eventually they published their protocols, and in the summer of 1998, the company I work for, Counterpane, published a paper describing the flaws we found. Once again, public scrutiny paid off. Microsoft quickly posted a series of fixes, which we evaluated this summer and found improved, but still flawed.
Like algorithms, the only way to tell a good security protocol from a broken one is to have experts evaluate it. So if you need to use a security protocol, you’d be much smarter taking one that has already been evaluated. You can create your own, but what are the odds of it being as secure as one that has been evaluated over the past several years by experts?
Securing Your Code
The exact same reasoning leads any smart security engineer to demand open source code for anything related to security. Let’s review: Security has nothing to do with functionality. Therefore, no amount of beta testing can ever uncover a security flaw. The only way to find security flaws in a piece of code—such as in a cryptographic algorithm or security protocol—is to evaluate it. This is true for all code, whether it is open source or proprietary. And you can’t just have anyone evaluate the code, you need experts in security software evaluating the code. You need them evaluating it multiple times and from different angles, over the course of years. It’s possible to hire this kind of expertise, but it is much cheaper and more effective to let the community at large do this. And the best way to make that happen is to publish the source code.
But then if you want your code to truly be secure, you’ll need to do more than just publish it under an open source license. There are two obvious caveats you should keep in mind.
First, simply publishing the code does not automatically mean that people will examine it for security flaws. Security researchers are fickle and busy people. They do not have the time to examine every piece of source code that is published. So while opening up source code is a good thing, it is not a guarantee of security. I could name a dozen open source security libraries that no one has ever heard of, and no one has ever evaluated. On the other hand, the security code in Linux has been looked at by a lot of very good security engineers.
Second, you need to be sure that security problems are fixed promptly when found. People will find security flaws in open source security code. This is a good thing. There’s no reason to believe that open source code is, at the time of its writing, more secure than proprietary code. The point of making it open source is so that many, many people look at the code for security flaws and find them. Quickly. These then have to be fixed. So a two year-old piece of open source code is likely to have far fewer security flaws than proprietary code, simply because so many of them have been found and fixed over that time. Security flaws will also be discovered in proprietary code, but at a much slower rate.
Comparing the security of Linux with that of Microsoft Windows is not very instructive. Microsoft has done such a terrible job with security that it is not really a fair comparison. But comparing Linux with Solaris, for example, is more instructive. People are finding security problems with Linux faster and they are being fixed more quickly. The result is an operating system that, even though it has only been out a few years, is much more robust than Solaris was at the same age.
One of the great benefits of the open source movement is the positive-feedback effect of publicity. Walk into any computer superstore these days, and you’ll see an entire shelf of Linux-based products. People buy them because Linux’s appeal is no longer limited to geeks; it’s a useful tool for certain applications. The same feedback loop works in security: public algorithms and protocols gain credibility because people know them and use them, and then they become the current buzzword. Marketing people call this mindshare. It’s not a perfect model, but hey, it’s better than the alternative.
A few months ago, I talked about Microsoft’s system for digitally signing cryptography suites that go into its operating system. The point is that only approved crypto suites can be used, which makes thing like export control easier. Annoying as it is, this is the current marketplace.
Microsoft has two keys, a primary and a spare. The Crypto-Gram article talked about attacks based on the fact that a crypto suite is considered signed if it is signed by EITHER key, and that there is no mechanism for transitioning from the primary key to the backup. It’s stupid cryptography, but the sort of thing you’d expect out of Microsoft.
Suddenly there’s a flurry of press activity because someone notices that the second key in Microsoft’s Crypto API in Windows NT Service Pack 5 is called “NSAKEY” in the code. Ah ha! The NSA can sign crypto suites. They can use this ability to drop a Trojaned crypto suite into your computers. Or so the conspiracy theory goes.
I don’t buy it.
First, if the NSA wanted to compromise Microsoft’s Crypto API, it would be much easier to either 1) convince MS to tell them the secret key for MS’s signature key, 2) get MS to sign an NSA-compromised module, or 3) install a module other than Crypto API to break the encryption (no other modules need signatures). It’s always easier to break good encryption by attacking the random number generator than it is to brute-force the key.
Second, NSA doesn’t need a key to compromise security in Windows. Programs like Back Orifice can do it without any keys. Attacking the Crypto API still requires that the victim run an executable (even a Word macro) on his computer. If you can convince a victim to run an untrusted macro, there are a zillion smarter ways to compromise security.
Third, why in the world would anyone call a secret NSA key “NSAKEY”? Lots of people have access to source code within Microsoft; a conspiracy like this would only be known by a few people. Anyone with a debugger could have found this “NSAKEY.” If this is a covert mechanism, it’s not very covert.
I see two possibilities. One, that the backup key is just as Microsoft says, a backup key. It’s called “NSAKEY” for some dumb reason, and that’s that.
Two, that it is actually an NSA key. If the NSA is going to use Microsoft products for classified traffic, they’re going to install their own cryptography. They’re not going to want to show it to anyone, not even Microsoft. They are going to want to sign their own modules. So the backup key could also be an NSA internal key, so that they could install strong cryptography on Microsoft products for their own internal use.
But it’s not an NSA key so they can secretly inflict weak cryptography on the unsuspecting masses. There are just too many smarter things they can do to the unsuspecting masses.
My original article:
http://www.cryptonym.com/hottopics/msft-nsa.html [dead link as of 2000-02-18]
Useful news article:
“Cryptanalysis of Microsoft’s PPTP Authentication Extensions (MS-CHAPv2)”
Bruce Schneier and Mudge, CQRE, Duesseldorf, Oct 1999, to appear.
The Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is used to secure PPP connections over TCP/IP link. In response to [SM98], Microsoft released extensions to the PPTP authentication mechanism (MS-CHAP), called MS-CHAPv2. We present an overview of the changes in the authentication and encryption-key generation portions of MS-CHAPv2, and assess the improvements and remaining weaknesses in Microsoft’s PPTP implementation. While fixing some of the more egregious errors in MS-CHAPv1, the new protocol still suffers from some of the same weaknesses.
The Internet Auditing Project. This is REAL interesting. A group did a low-level security audit of 36 million hosts on the Internet. Just how secure is the Internet really?
And if that isn’t scary enough, here’s a more detailed audit of 2200 Internet sites.
My all-time favorite Y2K compliance statement:
If you need more evidence that proprietary security just doesn’t work, Microsoft’s digital music security format is cracked within days of being released:
Patent blackmail: Lawyers for someone named Leon Stambler have been sending threatening letters to security companies, claiming that SSL, PCK, FIPS 196, SET, Microsoft PPTP, Authenticode, etc. infringe on his patent. See for yourself; the U.S. patent numbers are 5,793,302 and 5,646,998.
With all the talk about electronic voting, it’s nice that someone recognizes that there are some serious security problems. The most severe, at least to me, is voter coercion. When you step into a private voting booth, you can vote as you please. No one can do anything about it. If you can vote from your computer, in your own home, with some kind of electronic security measure, then it is possible for someone to buy your vote and to ensure that you deliver on the goods.
Many people asked me about my comment last issue about Windows NT needing over 300 security changes to make it secure. I queried the Usenet newsgroup comp.os.ms-windows.nt.admin.security asking if it was folklore or truth, and got several answers. The consensus seemed to be that the number was somewhere between 50 and 3000, and 300 wasn’t an unreasonable estimate. A good checklist is available here:
And see also:
The U.S. crypto export regulations has led to the development of some excellent products from non-U.S. companies. Judging from this article, though, this isn’t one of them:
Two Microsoft security white papers. They’re not great, but they do explain the Microsoft party line.
Security basics: http://www.microsoft.com/security/resources/…
Office 2000 Macro Security: http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/2000/… [link moved to http://office.microsoft.com/downloads/2000/o2ksec.aspx]
A flaw in Hotmail allows anyone to read anyone else’s email, without a password. To me, the real interesting story is not that the flaw was discovered, but that it might have been known by the underground community long before it became public. Some of the news stories imply this.
Encrypted sculpture at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, VA.
http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/990826.kryptos.html [link moved; see http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?…]
Join the military and see the basements of Ft. Meade. The National Security Agency is offering free college tuition and room and board to hackers willing to work for them for five years after graduation.
Nice BBC article on U.S. encryption debate:
Funny stuff: the real story of Alice and Bob:
http://www.conceptlabs.co.uk/alicebob.html [link dead; try http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/computing/users/rafaeli/…]
There was a really good article—clear, complete, understandable—in _The Sciences_ recently about quantum computing. Cryptome has put the article online, with the permission of the author.
The Justice Department is planning to ask Congress for new authority allowing federal agents armed with search warrants to secretly break into homes and offices to obtain decryption keys or passwords or to implant “recovery devices” or otherwise modify computers to ensure that any encrypted messages or files can be read by the government.
With this dramatic proposal, the Clinton Administration is basically saying: “If you don’t give your key in advance to a third party, we will secretly enter your house to take it if we suspect criminal conduct.”
The full text of the Justice Department proposal, a section-by-section analysis prepared by DOJ lawyers, and related materials are available at:
Bruce Schneier will be speaking at SANS Network Security 99, October 3-10, in New Orleans. See http://www.sans.org/ns99/ns99.htm for more conference details.
Attack Trees: Wed, 6 Oct, 10:30-12:30
Internet Cryptography: Tue, 5 Oct, 9:00-5:00
Bruce Schneier authored the “Inside Risks” column for the Aug, Sep, and Oct 99 issues of Communications of the ACM.
Biometrics: Uses and Abuses: http://www.schneier.com/essay-insiderisks1.html
The Trojan Horse Race: http://www.schneier.com/essay-insiderisks2.html
Risks of Relying on Cryptography: http://www.schneier.com/essay-insiderisks3.html
E*Trade’s password security isn’t. They limit the logon password to a maximum of 6 characters, and the only choices are letters (upper and lower case are distinguished), numbers, $, and _. Whose portfolio do you want to trade today?
A factoring record was broken last month, on 22 August. A group led by Herman te Riele of CWI in Amsterdam factored a 512-bit (155-digit) hard number. By “hard,” I mean that it was the product of two 78-digit primes…the kind of numbers used by the RSA algorithm.
About 300 fast SGI workstations and Pentium PCs did the work, mostly on nights and weekends, over the course of seven months. The algorithm used was the General Number Field Sieve. The algorithm has two parts: a sieving step and a matrix reduction step. The sieving step was the part that the 300 computers worked on: about 8000 MIPS-years over 3.7 months. (This is the step that Shamir’s TWINKLE device can speed up.) The matrix reduction step took 224 CPU hours (and about 3.2 Gig of memory) on the Cray C916 at the SARA Amsterdam Academic Computer Center. If this were done over the general Internet, using resources comparable to what was used in the recent DES cracking efforts, it would take about a week calendar time.
The entire effort was 50 times easier than breaking DES. Factoring e-commerce keys is definitely very practical, and will be becoming even more so in future years. It is certainly reasonable to expect 768-bit numbers to be factored within a few years, so comments from RSA Laboratories that RSA keys should be a minimum of 768 bits are much too optimistic.
Certicom used the event to tout the benefits of elliptic curve public-key cryptography. Elliptic-curve algorithms, unlike algorithms like RSA, ElGamal, and DSA, are not vulnerable to the mathematical techniques that can factor these large numbers. Hence, they reason, elliptic curve algorithms are more secure than RSA and etc. There is some truth here, but only if you accept the premise that elliptic curve algorithms have fundamentally different mathematics. I wrote about this earlier; the short summary is that you should use elliptic curve cryptography if memory considerations demand it, but RSA with long keys is probably safer.
This event is significant for two reasons. One, most of the Internet security protocols use 512-bit RSA. This means that non-cryptographers will take notice of this, and probably panic a bit. And two, unlike other factoring efforts, this was done by one organization in secret. Most cryptographers didn’t even know this effort was going on. This shows that other organizations could already be breaking e-commerce keys regularly, and just not telling anyone.
As usual, the press is getting this story wrong. They say things like: “512-bit keys are no longer safe.” This completely misses the point. Like many of these cryptanalysis stories, the real news is that there is no news. The complexity of the factoring effort was no surprise; there were no mathematical advances in the work. Factoring a 512-bit number took about as much computing power as people predicted. If 512-bit keys are insecure today, they were just as insecure last month. Anyone implementing RSA should have moved to 1024-bit keys years ago, and should be thinking about 2048-bit keys today. It’s tiring when people don’t listen to cryptographers when they say that something is insecure, waiting instead for someone to actually demonstrate the insecurity.
Prominent Web sites that still use 512-bit RSA:
Microsoft’s online store
Compaq’s online store
Godiva’s online store
Flowers N More
There are lots more. You can check yourself by connecting to a site with a secure domestic version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0.
From: Gene Spafford <spafcs.purdue.edu>
Subject: Re: Comments on the “NSA” key in Windows NT
Well, it is always easier to believe a conspiracy theory or dark designs. However, there may be alternative explanations.
For instance, I happen to know that various 3-letter agencies use a lot of Windows machines (in a sense, that should be scary all by itself). Suppose they want to load their own highly-classified, very closely-guarded version of their own crypto routines. Do you think they will send copies of their code out to Redmond to get it signed so it can be loaded? Or are they going to sign it themselves, with their own key, doing it in-house where it is “safe”? If they are going the in-house route, then either Microsoft needs to share the private key with them (bad idea), or the code needs to accommodate a second key schedule generated inside the TLA. Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Another explanation, that I may have read here (this issue has been discussed on many lists) is that to get the approval for export, the folks at MS needed to include a “back-up” key in case the first was compromised in some way. They would need to switch over to using the alternate key for all the systems already out there. But how would they do that unless the second key was already installed, so they could do the switch using that second key? So, if you were MS, and the NSA required you to install a backup key like this, what would you call it?
Of course, it could be that MS wanted the backup key themselves, and the programmer involved in the coding decided to name it something silly.
Or, there is a history of MS code being shipped with undocumented code elements, and things that MS management don’t know are present. Suppose the code (involving only a few lines of code) was placed there by an agent of the intelligence services of some other country (it wouldn’t be that hard to subvert an existing employee or place one at MS with good coding skills who could eventually gain access to the appropriate code). He/she names the variables with “NSA” in place in case anyone doing a code review would question it—and includes a comment block that says “The NSA required this to be here—do not change or ask questions.” The “sinister purpose” might be correct, but you are blaming the wrong entity.
Heck, maybe this is a grand design of Mr. Gates himself: after all, he’s certainly having some aggravation from the U.S. Justice Department!
There are other possible explanations for the name, too.
These alternate explanations do not mean that the extra key does not have side-effects (such as clandestine installation and circumvention of the export controls). And of course, we will probably never know what the primary reason for this key is, nor will we know what role these side-effects may have had in the decision, despite what people eventually claim.
The key thought is that there are possible scenarios for the naming of the key that do not involve nefarious activity, or do not involve such activity by the NSA. That should not be the immediate conclusion people reach.
And, at the risk of starting some tirades, let me ask a (rhetorical) question: even if it was put there for purposes of clandestine monitoring, what is wrong with that? If this gets used to monitor terrorists with NBC weapons, drug cartels, or weapons labs in Iraq, isn’t that what we want done? In that light, there should be some concern that this has now been exposed and possibly nullified! The history of cryptography shows—repeatedly—that having crypto assets makes a huge difference in times of conflict, and that getting such assets in place and working takes time. It would be naive to believe that there are no such threats looming, or that there is no such likelihood in the future.
We should be clear in our discussions as to whether our concern is the presence of the code, or over who may have control of it. Is the issue really one of what controls are in place that ensure that the code isn’t used against inappropriate targets (e.g., law-abiding, friendly businesses and citizens)? Unfortunately, we don’t have strong assurances in this realm, and there have been some past abuses (or alleged abuses). But that may be moot if we the code was actually placed for some other group’s dark design.
From: “Lucky Green” <shamrockcypherpunks.to>
Subject: More NSAKEY musings
I’d like to comment on some of your public comments regarding the NSAKEY. The goal of this email is to provide you with a few data points about the mindset intelligence agencies employ when compromising systems.
First, I agree with your assessment that the NSA does not /need/ to compromise CAPI to compromise the computers of those running Windows. Which is not analogous to the claim that the NSA would not seek to compromise CAPI by causing Microsoft to install the NSA’s key.
For the academic cryptographer, once one catastrophic flaw in a cipher has been found, the work is over. “We have a 2^16th attack. The job is done. Let’s go home”. Intelligence agencies don’t operate this way.
My work with GSM has revealed that intelligence agencies, which as we all know ultimately stand behind the GSM ciphers, take a very different approach. Intelligence agencies will compromise every single component of a crypto system they can compromise. Intelligence agencies will, given the opportunity, compromise a component just because they can, not because they need to. This appears to be a somewhat perverted manifestation of implementing multiple redundancy into a system. Which, as I am sure we all agree, is generally a good idea.
In the case of GSM, we have discovered the following compromises:
o Compromised key generation.
The 64-bit keys have the last 10 bits of key zeroed out. (I heard rumors that some implementations only zero out the last 8 bits, but either way, this is undeniably a deliberate compromise of the entropy of the key).
o Compromise of the authentication system and keygen algorithm.
The GSM MoU was formally notified in 1989 (or 1990 at the latest) about the flaws in COMP128 we discovered last year. Long before GSM was widely fielded. The MoU’s Security Algorithm Group of Experts (SAGE), staffed by individuals who’s identities are unknown to this day, kept this discovery secret and failed to inform even the MoU’s own members. As a result, intelligence agencies can clone phones and calculate the voice privacy keys used during a call.
o Compromise of the stronger voice privacy algorithm A5/1.
This 64 bit cipher has numerous design “flaws”, resulting in a strength of at most 40 bits. It is inconceivable to me and virtually everybody I talked with that these rather obvious flaws were overlooked by A5/1’s French military designers.
o Compromise of the weaker voice privacy algorithm A5/2.
The MoU admits that breakability was a design goal of A5/2, even thought SAGE stated in their official analysis of A5/2 that they were unaware of any cryptographic flaws in A5/2.
To allow for interception and decryption of GSM traffic, it would have sufficed to compromise the effective key length. It would have sufficed to compromise the keygen. It would have sufficed to compromise the ciphers. The NSA/GCHQ did all three.
Given these facts, it would not be at all unusual for the NSA to install backdoors in the Windows OS itself *and* have obtained a copy of Microsoft’s signing key *and* have Microsoft install the NSA’s own key.
Think of it as well-designed failover redundant compromise.
From: “Kevin F. Quinn” <kevqbanana.demon.co.uk>
Subject: Crypto-Gram April 15 1999, and the recent “NSA” spare-key debate.
In Crypto-Gram April 15 1999, you mentioned the two-key approach of Microsoft with regard its root keys for Authenticode, and that they included the two keys “presumably for if one ever gets compromised”. We now know the same approach was taken for CSP. Microsoft’s own announcement on the subject is interesting; the two keys are present “in case the root key is destroyed” (paraphrase). I think in your Crypto-Gram you meant “destroyed” rather than “compromised”—Microsoft seem to be trying to guard against the possibility that the secret root key is burnt in a fire or somesuch; they’re not guarding against unauthorised copies of the key being made with the two-key approach. I think it’s an important distinction to make.
The only good reason I can see to have two keys, is to provide security against compromise—in which case you need to validate signatures against both keys (i.e., AND rather than OR). That way if one key is compromised, the validation will still fail as the second signature won’t be valid. If both keys are stored in separate secured locations, the attacker has to break the security of both locations in order to acquire both keys, and you hope that you might notice one break-in before the second occurs. The sensible way to guard against the possibility of destruction (fire, catastrophe etc) is to have several copies, each securely stored and monitored (the same way classified documents are controlled).
Microsoft claim that the two-key approach was suggested by the NSA—I find it difficult to believe the NSA would suggest including two root keys, to guard against destruction of a root key. My pet theory is that there was a communication problem; the NSA advice went something along the lines of, “having two root keys guards against loss”, meaning compromise, and Microsoft took this to mean destruction.
From: Greg Guerin <glguerinamug.org>
Subject: A new spin on the NSA-key/NT issue?
In your article at <http://www.schneier.com/…>, you end by saying: “This virus doesn’t exist yet, but it could be written.” [This is a virus that would replace the backup key in NT with a rogue key, and could trick the user into accepting malicious code as signed.]
After I wrote <http://amug.org/~glguerin/opinion/win-nsa-key.html>, it occurred to me that the virus now exists, or at least all the parts of it do. It only needs to be “turned to the Dark Side” and assembled. The “construction kit” for this virus is none other than the “repair program” at:
All the parts are there. The “AddDelCsp.exe” program (no source provided) is the active infecting agent. The “nsarplce.dll” and other DLL’s are the “toxins”. The kit even includes “TestReplacement.exe” (with source) to test whether an enterprising young kit-builder has made his changes successfully or not.
I’m sorta guessing, but someone with Wintel programming skills could probably construct a virus or Trojan horse with this kit in a matter of hours. Probably the only skill they would have to sharpen is the crypto, but there’s some nice starter info in the Fernandes report itself. A little reading, a little key-generating time, maybe a little patching, and presto. Try it on a local NT system, then release it to the world by mirroring the Fernandes report. Or just send it to some “friends” via Hotmail. It would certainly look authentic, and because even the original “repair” program was unsigned, and the original report says nothing about authenticating the download before running it, it could be a very well-traveled Trojan horse indeed.
If this virulent “repair program” is written with a little restraint, it can spread VERY far before anyone even notices. It could even camouflage itself and name its toxic key “NSAKEY”, just like Microsoft’s original. That is, after “removing” itself, it’s still present. How often do people even think of checking that key?
If you know someone with NT programming experience, it might be interesting to have them read the Fernandes report, download the virus construction kit, er, I mean “repair” program, then give this a try. I’d guess that not even prior virus-writing skills would be needed, just above-average NT programming skills. I bet you’d have a virulent version in less than an afternoon. A fine project for a lazy Labor Day holiday, eh?
From: Sam Kissetner
I thought this might amuse you. The February issue of Crypto-Gram makes fun of Meganet’s home page for saying:
1 million bit symmetric keys—The market offer’s [sic] 40-160
I visited that page today. (The URL changed; it’s at <http://www.meganet.com/>.) Maybe they read Crypto-Gram, because they tried to fix the grammatical error. But it was part of a graphic, so they just pasted a little white box over the apostrophe and s, leaving:
1 million bit symmetric keys—The market offer 40-160 bit only!!!
Gee, that’s *much* better.
From: Marcus Leech <mleechnortelnetworks.com>
Subject: HP’s crypt(1) description
To be fair to HP, and crypt(1)—HP has merely faithfully reproduced the original crypt(1) MAN page. Crypt(1) first appeared in Unix V7, back around 1978 or so—at a time when DES was just starting to be used in certain limited areas. That an operating system had any kind of file encryption facility at all was some kind of miracle at the time. Sun has obviously lightly hacked-over the documentation to reflect current reality, while HP has taken the approach of staying faithful to the original documentation.
CRYPTO-GRAM is a free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on computer security and cryptography.
To subscribe, visit http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram.html or send a blank message to email@example.com. To unsubscribe, visit http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-faq.html. Back issues are available at http://www.schneier.com.
Please feel free to forward CRYPTO-GRAM to colleagues and friends who will find it valuable. Permission is granted to reprint CRYPTO-GRAM, as long as it is reprinted in its entirety.
CRYPTO-GRAM is written by Bruce Schneier. Schneier is founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security Inc., the author of “Applied Cryptography,” and an inventor of the Blowfish, Twofish, and Yarrow algorithms. He served on the board of the International Association for Cryptologic Research, EPIC, and VTW. He is a frequent writer and lecturer on computer security and cryptography.
Counterpane Internet Security, Inc. is a venture-funded company bringing innovative managed security solutions to the enterprise.