Previously I have written about the Swedish-owned Swiss-based cryptographic hardware company: Crypto AG. It was a CIA-owned Cold War operation for decades. Today it is called Crypto International, still based in Switzerland but owned by a Swedish company.
It’s back in the news:
Late last week, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said she had canceled a meeting with her Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis slated for this month after Switzerland placed an export ban on Crypto International, a Swiss-based and Swedish-owned cybersecurity company.
The ban was imposed while Swiss authorities examine long-running and explosive claims that a previous incarnation of Crypto International, Crypto AG, was little more than a front for U.S. intelligence-gathering during the Cold War.
Linde said the Swiss ban was stopping “goods”—which experts suggest could include cybersecurity upgrades or other IT support needed by Swedish state agencies—from reaching Sweden.
She told public broadcaster SVT that the meeting with Cassis was “not appropriate right now until we have fully understood the Swiss actions.”
EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Lots of information on Crypto AG.
Posted on October 6, 2020 at 6:11 AM •
Researchers have found a critical flaw in the Swiss Internet voting system. I was going to write an essay about how this demonstrates that Internet voting is a stupid idea and should never be attempted—and that this system in particular should never be deployed, even if the found flaw is fixed—but Cory Doctorow beat me to it:
The belief that companies can be trusted with this power defies all logic, but it persists. Someone found Swiss Post’s embrace of the idea too odious to bear, and they leaked the source code that Swiss Post had shared under its nondisclosure terms, and then an international team of some of the world’s top security experts (including some of our favorites, like Matthew Green) set about analyzing that code, and (as every security expert who doesn’t work for an e-voting company has predicted since the beginning of time), they found an incredibly powerful bug that would allow a single untrusted party at Swiss Post to undetectably alter the election results.
And, as everyone who’s ever advocated for the right of security researchers to speak in public without permission from the companies whose products they were assessing has predicted since the beginning of time, Swiss Post and Scytl downplayed the importance of this objectively very, very, very important bug. Swiss Post’s position is that since the bug only allows elections to be stolen by Swiss Post employees, it’s not a big deal, because Swiss Post employees wouldn’t steal an election.
But when Swiss Post agreed to run the election, they promised an e-voting system based on “zero knowledge” proofs that would allow voters to trust the outcome of the election without having to trust Swiss Post. Swiss Post is now moving the goalposts, saying that it wouldn’t be such a big deal if you had to trust Swiss Post implicitly to trust the outcome of the election.
You might be thinking, “Well, what is the big deal? If you don’t trust the people administering an election, you can’t trust the election’s outcome, right?” Not really: we design election systems so that multiple, uncoordinated people all act as checks and balances on each other. To suborn a well-run election takes massive coordination at many polling- and counting-places, as well as independent scrutineers from different political parties, as well as outside observers, etc.
Read the whole thing. It’s excellent.
Posted on March 15, 2019 at 9:44 AM •
Interesting blog post about this book about Switzerland’s national defense.
To make a long story short, McPhee describes two things: how Switzerland requires military service from every able-bodied male Swiss citizen—a model later emulated and expanded by Israel—and how the Swiss military has, in effect, wired the entire country to blow in the event of foreign invasion. To keep enemy armies out, bridges will be dynamited and, whenever possible, deliberately collapsed onto other roads and bridges below; hills have been weaponized to be activated as valley-sweeping artificial landslides; mountain tunnels will be sealed from within to act as nuclear-proof air raid shelters; and much more.
To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two. Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage.
Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them. There are weapons and soldiers under barns. There are cannons inside pretty houses. Where Swiss highways happen to run on narrow ground between the edges of lakes and to the bottoms of cliffs, man-made rockslides are ready to slide.
McPhee points to small moments of “fake stonework, concealing the artillery behind it,” that dot Switzerland’s Alpine geology, little doors that will pop open to reveal internal cannons and blast the country’s roads to smithereens. Later, passing under a mountain bridge, McPhee notices “small steel doors in one pier” hinting that the bridge “was ready to blow. It had been superceded, however, by an even higher bridge, which leaped through the sky above—a part of the new road to Simplon. In an extreme emergency, the midspan of the new bridge would no doubt drop on the old one.”
The book is on my Kindle.
Posted on June 20, 2012 at 7:27 AM •
This story made the rounds in European newspapers about ten years ago—mostly stories in German, if I remember—but it wasn’t covered much here in the U.S.
For half a century, Crypto AG, a Swiss company located in Zug, has sold to more than 100 countries the encryption machines their officials rely upon to exchange their most sensitive economic, diplomatic and military messages. Crypto AG was founded in 1952 by the legendary (Russian born) Swedish cryptographer Boris Hagelin. During World War II, Hagelin sold 140,000 of his machine to the US Army.
“In the meantime, the Crypto AG has built up long standing cooperative relations with customers in 130 countries,” states a prospectus of the company. The home page of the company Web site says, “Crypto AG is the preferred top-security partner for civilian and military authorities worldwide. Security is our business and will always remain our business.”
And for all those years, US eavesdroppers could read these messages without the least difficulty. A decade after the end of WWII, the NSA, also known as No Such Agency, had rigged the Crypto AG machines in various ways according to the targeted countries. It is probably no exaggeration to state that this 20th century version of the “Trojan horse” is quite likely the greatest sting in modern history.
We don’t know the truth here, but the article lays out the evidence pretty well.
See this essay of mine on how the NSA might have been able to read Iranian encrypted traffic.
Posted on January 11, 2008 at 6:51 AM •
This is so silly I wasn’t going to even bother blogging about it. But the sheer number of news stories has made me change my mind.
Basically, the Swiss company ID Quantique convinced the Swiss government to use quantum cryptography to protect vote transmissions during their October 21 election. It was a great publicity stunt, and the news articles were filled with hyperbole: how the “unbreakable” encryption will ensure the integrity of the election, how this will protect the election against hacking, and so on.
Complete idiocy. There are many serious security threats to voting systems, especially paperless touch-screen voting systems, but they’re not centered around the transmission of votes from the voting site to the central tabulating office. The software in the voting machines themselves is a much bigger threat, one that quantum cryptography doesn’t solve in the least.
Moving data from point A to point B securely is one of the easiest security problems we have. Conventional encryption works great. PGP, SSL, SSH could all be used to solve this problem, as could pretty much any good VPN software package; there’s no need to use quantum crypto for this at all. Software security, OS security, network security, and user security are much harder security problems; and quantum crypto doesn’t even begin to address them.
So, congratulations to ID Quantique for a nice publicity stunt. But did they actually increase the security of the Swiss election? Doubtful.
Posted on October 29, 2007 at 6:02 AM •
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has confirmed plans to seek a change to the constitution to allow the state secret access to the computers of private individuals, in an interview published Thursday.
Supposedly Switzerland is also considering a similar law.
Posted on April 11, 2007 at 1:36 PM •
At least they’re thinking about it:
Swiss authorities are investigating the possibility of tapping VoIP calls, which could involve commandeering ISPs to install Trojan code on target computers.
VoIP calls through software services such as Skype are encrypted as they are passed over the public Internet, in order to safeguard the privacy of the callers.
This presents a problem for anyone wanting to listen in, as they are faced with trying to decrypt the packets by brute force—not easy during a three-minute phone call. What’s more, many VoIP services are not based in Switzerland, so the authorities don’t have the jurisdiction to force them to hand over the decryption keys or offer access to calls made through these services.
The only alternative is to find a means of listening in at a point before the data is encrypted.
In order to install the application on the target computer, the Swiss authorities
envisage two strategies: either have law enforcement surreptitiously install it locally, or have the telco or ISP which provides Internet access to that computer install it remotely.
The application, essentially a piece of Trojan code, is also able to turn on the microphone on the target PC and monitor not just VoIP conversations, but also any other ambient audio.
Posted on October 18, 2006 at 2:26 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.