We have found that the damage that could be caused by law enforcement exceptional access requirements would be even greater today than it would have been 20 years ago. In the wake of the growing economic and social cost of the fundamental insecurity of today’s Internet environment, any proposals that alter the security dynamics online should be approached with caution. Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse forward secrecy design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws.
But when pressed on why systems had not been protected with encryption prior to the recent discovery of an intrusion that gave attackers access to sensitive data on millions of government employees and government contractors, she said, “It is not feasible to implement on networks that are too old.” She added that the agency is now working to encrypt data within its networks.
A consultant who did some work with a company contracted by OPM to manage personnel records for a number of agencies told Ars that he found the Unix systems administrator for the project “was in Argentina and his co-worker was physically located in the [People’s Republic of China]. Both had direct access to every row of data in every database: they were root.
“When a company, a communications company or a ISP or social media company elects to build in its software encryption, end-to-end encryption, and leaves no ability for even the company to access that, we don’t have the means by which to see the content”, he added.
“When we intercept it, we intercept encrypted communications. So that’s the challenge: working with those companies to build technological solutions to prevent encryption above all else.
Steinbach insisted that he wasn’t asking for a “back door” to be built into encryption products, telling legislators that “we’re not looking at going through a back door or being nefarious.”
He proposes using the side door, the door no one else knows about, instead.
We have published a technical report, Imperfect Forward Secrecy: How Diffie-Hellman Fails in Practice, which has specifics on these attacks, details on how we broke the most common 512-bit Diffie-Hellman group, and measurements of who is affected. We have also published several proof of concept demos and a Guide to Deploying Diffie-Hellman for TLS.
What should I do?
If you run a server…
If you have a web or mail server, you should disable support for export cipher suites and generate a unique 2048-bit Diffie-Hellman group. We have published a Guide to Deploying Diffie-Hellman for TLS with step-by-step instructions. If you use SSH, you should upgrade both your server and client installations to the most recent version of OpenSSH, which prefers Elliptic-Curve Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange.
Cryptographic backdoors will not work. As a matter of technology, they are deeply incompatible with modern software platforms. And as a matter of policy and law, addressing those incompatibilities would require intolerable regulation of the technology sector. Any attempt to mandate backdoors will merely escalate an arms race, where usable and secure software stays a step ahead of the government.
The easiest way to understand the argument is to walk through a hypothetical. I’m going to use Android; much of the same analysis would apply to iOS or any other mobile platform.
A security audit of TrueCrypt has determined that the disk encryption software does not contain any backdoors that could be used by the NSA or other surveillance agencies. A report prepared by the NCC Group for Open Crypto Audit Project found that the encryption tool is not vulnerable to being compromised.
Silent Circle is all about security, but security is about more than just a phone that features encryption. There is an entire ecosystem in place starting with the secure PrivatOS 1.1. The latest upgrade to the operating system introduces a feature called Spaces which allows for OS-level virtualization and the ability to keep work and personal apps and data completely separate from each other. These features are also due to rollout to first generation Blackphones through an upcoming update.
A few weeks ago, I wrote ssh-chat.
The idea is simple: You open your terminal and type,$ ssh chat.shazow.net
Unlike many others, you might stop yourself before typing “ls” and notice — that’s no shell, it’s a chat room!
I was just thinking about how useful and simple ssh is for doing end to end encryption for various services before being notified of this post. On a linux box you can
ssh -X remotehost and bring up any X-windowed app from a terminal command. Very simple. Very useful. Very secure. For copying files there’s the
scp command. And one final shout out to the
sshfs command for mounting remote filesystems.
The NSA also has “major” problems with Truecrypt, a program for encrypting files on computers. Truecrypt’s developers stopped their work on the program last May, prompting speculation about pressures from government agencies. A protocol called Off-the-Record (OTR) for encrypting instant messaging in an end-to-end encryption process also seems to cause the NSA major problems. Both are programs whose source code can be viewed, modified, shared and used by anyone. Experts agree it is far more difficult for intelligence agencies to manipulate open source software programs than many of the closed systems developed by companies like Apple and Microsoft. Since anyone can view free and open source software, it becomes difficult to insert secret back doors without it being noticed.
HTTPS may introduce overhead in terms of infrastructure costs, communication latency, data usage, and energy consumption. Moreover, given the opaqueness of the encrypted communication, any in-network value added services requiring visibility into application layer content, such as caches and virus scanners, become ineffective.