Susan Landau published an excellent essay on the current justification for the government breaking end-to-end-encryption: child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE). She puts the debate into historical context, discusses the problem of CSAE, and explains why breaking encryption isn’t the solution.
Entries Tagged "encryption"
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Totally expected, but still good to hear:
Onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, Meredith Whittaker, the president of the Signal Foundation, which maintains the nonprofit Signal messaging app, reaffirmed that Signal would leave the U.K. if the country’s recently passed Online Safety Bill forced Signal to build “backdoors” into its end-to-end encryption.
“We would leave the U.K. or any jurisdiction if it came down to the choice between backdooring our encryption and betraying the people who count on us for privacy, or leaving,” Whittaker said. “And that’s never not true.”
The cryptocurrency fintech startup Prime Trust lost the encryption key to its hardware wallet—and the recovery key—and therefore $38.9 million. It is now in bankruptcy.
I can’t understand why anyone thinks these technologies are a good idea.
I just read an article complaining that NIST is taking too long in finalizing its post-quantum-computing cryptography standards.
This process has been going on since 2016, and since that time there has been a huge increase in quantum technology and an equally large increase in quantum understanding and interest. Yet seven years later, we have only four algorithms, although last week NIST announced that a number of other candidates are under consideration, a process that is expected to take “several years.
The delay in developing quantum-resistant algorithms is especially troubling given the time it will take to get those products to market. It generally takes four to six years with a new standard for a vendor to develop an ASIC to implement the standard, and it then takes time for the vendor to get the product validated, which seems to be taking a troubling amount of time.
Yes, the process will take several years, and you really don’t want to rush it. I wrote this last year:
Ian Cassels, British mathematician and World War II cryptanalyst, once said that “cryptography is a mixture of mathematics and muddle, and without the muddle the mathematics can be used against you.” This mixture is particularly difficult to achieve with public-key algorithms, which rely on the mathematics for their security in a way that symmetric algorithms do not. We got lucky with RSA and related algorithms: their mathematics hinge on the problem of factoring, which turned out to be robustly difficult. Post-quantum algorithms rely on other mathematical disciplines and problems—code-based cryptography, hash-based cryptography, lattice-based cryptography, multivariate cryptography, and so on—whose mathematics are both more complicated and less well-understood. We’re seeing these breaks because those core mathematical problems aren’t nearly as well-studied as factoring is.
As the new cryptanalytic results demonstrate, we’re still learning a lot about how to turn hard mathematical problems into public-key cryptosystems. We have too much math and an inability to add more muddle, and that results in algorithms that are vulnerable to advances in mathematics. More cryptanalytic results are coming, and more algorithms are going to be broken.
As to the long time it takes to get new encryption products to market, work on shortening it:
The moral is the need for cryptographic agility. It’s not enough to implement a single standard; it’s vital that our systems be able to easily swap in new algorithms when required.
Whatever NIST comes up with, expect that it will get broken sooner than we all want. It’s the nature of these trap-door functions we’re using for public-key cryptography.
Seems that there is a deliberate backdoor in the twenty-year-old TErrestrial Trunked RAdio (TETRA) standard used by police forces around the world.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an organization that standardizes technologies across the industry, first created TETRA in 1995. Since then, TETRA has been used in products, including radios, sold by Motorola, Airbus, and more. Crucially, TETRA is not open-source. Instead, it relies on what the researchers describe in their presentation slides as “secret, proprietary cryptography,” meaning it is typically difficult for outside experts to verify how secure the standard really is.
The researchers said they worked around this limitation by purchasing a TETRA-powered radio from eBay. In order to then access the cryptographic component of the radio itself, Wetzels said the team found a vulnerability in an interface of the radio.
Most interestingly is the researchers’ findings of what they describe as the backdoor in TEA1. Ordinarily, radios using TEA1 used a key of 80-bits. But Wetzels said the team found a “secret reduction step” which dramatically lowers the amount of entropy the initial key offered. An attacker who followed this step would then be able to decrypt intercepted traffic with consumer-level hardware and a cheap software defined radio dongle.
Looks like the encryption algorithm was intentionally weakened by intelligence agencies to facilitate easy eavesdropping.
Specifically on the researchers’ claims of a backdoor in TEA1, Boyer added “At this time, we would like to point out that the research findings do not relate to any backdoors. The TETRA security standards have been specified together with national security agencies and are designed for and subject to export control regulations which determine the strength of the encryption.”
And I would like to point out that that’s the very definition of a backdoor.
Why aren’t we done with secret, proprietary cryptography? It’s just not a good idea.
New research suggests that AIs can produce perfectly secure steganographic images:
Abstract: Steganography is the practice of encoding secret information into innocuous content in such a manner that an adversarial third party would not realize that there is hidden meaning. While this problem has classically been studied in security literature, recent advances in generative models have led to a shared interest among security and machine learning researchers in developing scalable steganography techniques. In this work, we show that a steganography procedure is perfectly secure under Cachin (1998)’s information theoretic-model of steganography if and only if it is induced by a coupling. Furthermore, we show that, among perfectly secure procedures, a procedure is maximally efficient if and only if it is induced by a minimum entropy coupling. These insights yield what are, to the best of our knowledge, the first steganography algorithms to achieve perfect security guarantees with non-trivial efficiency; additionally, these algorithms are highly scalable. To provide empirical validation, we compare a minimum entropy coupling-based approach to three modern baselines—arithmetic coding, Meteor, and adaptive dynamic grouping—using GPT-2, WaveRNN, and Image Transformer as communication channels. We find that the minimum entropy coupling-based approach achieves superior encoding efficiency, despite its stronger security constraints. In aggregate, these results suggest that it may be natural to view information-theoretic steganography through the lens of minimum entropy coupling.
EDITED TO ADD (6/13): Comments.
As currently drafted, the Bill could break end-to-end encryption,opening the door to routine, general and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages of friends, family members, employees, executives, journalists, human rights activists and even politicians themselves, which would fundamentally undermine everyone’s ability to communicate securely.
The Bill provides no explicit protection for encryption, and if implemented as written, could empower OFCOM to try to force the proactive scanning of private messages on end-to-end encrypted communication services—nullifying the purpose of end-to-end encryption as a result and compromising the privacy of all users.
In short, the Bill poses an unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety and security of every UK citizen and the people with whom they communicate around the world, while emboldening hostile governments who may seek to draft copy-cat laws.
Researchers have just published a side-channel attack—using power consumption—against an implementation of the algorithm that was supposed to be resistant against that sort of attack.
The algorithm is not “broken” or “cracked”—despite headlines to the contrary—this is just a side-channel attack. What makes this work really interesting is that the researchers used a machine-learning model to train the system to exploit the side channel.
The team of computer scientist George Lasry, pianist Norbert Biermann and astrophysicist Satoshi Tomokiyo—all keen cryptographers—initially thought the batch of encoded documents related to Italy, because that was how they were filed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
However, they quickly realised the letters were in French. Many verb and adjectival forms being feminine, regular mention of captivity, and recurring names—such as Walsingham—all put them on the trail of Mary. Sir Francis Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster.
The code was a simple replacement system in which symbols stand either for letters, or for common words and names. But it would still have taken centuries to crunch all the possibilities, so the team used an algorithm that homed in on likely solutions.
EDITED TO ADD (2/13): More news.
A group of Swiss researchers have published an impressive security analysis of Threema.
We provide an extensive cryptographic analysis of Threema, a Swiss-based encrypted messaging application with more than 10 million users and 7000 corporate customers. We present seven different attacks against the protocol in three different threat models. As one example, we present a cross-protocol attack which breaks authentication in Threema and which exploits the lack of proper key separation between different sub-protocols. As another, we demonstrate a compression-based side-channel attack that recovers users’ long-term private keys through observation of the size of Threema encrypted back-ups. We discuss remediations for our attacks and draw three wider lessons for developers of secure protocols.
From a news article:
Threema has more than 10 million users, which include the Swiss government, the Swiss army, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and other politicians in that country. Threema developers advertise it as a more secure alternative to Meta’s WhatsApp messenger. It’s among the top Android apps for a fee-based category in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Canada, and Australia. The app uses a custom-designed encryption protocol in contravention of established cryptographic norms.
The company is performing the usual denials and deflections:
In a web post, Threema officials said the vulnerabilities applied to an old protocol that’s no longer in use. It also said the researchers were overselling their findings.
“While some of the findings presented in the paper may be interesting from a theoretical standpoint, none of them ever had any considerable real-world impact,” the post stated. “Most assume extensive and unrealistic prerequisites that would have far greater consequences than the respective finding itself.”
Left out of the statement is that the protocol the researchers analyzed is old because they disclosed the vulnerabilities to Threema, and Threema updated it.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.