Archive for the 'Encryption' Category

Mar 18 2014

NSP Microcast – RSAC2014 – Utimaco

I spent a few minutes with the CEO of Utimaco, Malte Pollman at RSAC this year.  Malte explains why Hardware Security Modules are important to the web of trust of the Internet, why lawful interception is a not in conflict with that web of trust.  As with all my interviews at RSAC, I asked Malte how the last year’s worth of spying revelations have affected his company and him personally.  Also, I have a problem pronouncing the company name, which for the record is you-tee-make-oh.


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Mar 09 2014

Mt. Gox Doxed

I’ve never owned a bitcoin, I’ve never mined a bitcoin, in fact I’ve never really talked to anyone who’s used them extensively.  I have kept half an eye on the larger bitcoin stories though, and the recent disclosures that bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox was victim of hackers who stole the entire of the content in their vault, worth hundreds of millions of dollars (or pounds) have kept my interest.  I know I’m not the only one who’s smelled something more than a little off about the whole story and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Apparently a hacker, or hackers, who also felt something wasn’t right on the mountain decided to do something about it: they doxed* Mt. Gox and it’s CEO, Mark Karpeles.

We don’t know yet if the files that hackers exposed to the internet were actually legitimate files from Mt. Gox and Mr. Karpeles yet, but this isn’t the only disclosure the company is potentially facing.  Another hacker has claimed to have about 20Gigs of information about the company, their users and plenty of interesting documents.  Between the two, if even a little of the data is valid, it’ll spell out a lot of trouble for Mt. Gox and it’s users.  If I were a prosecutor who had any remote possiblity of being involved in this case, I’d be collecting every piece of information and disclosed file I could, with big plans for using them in court at a later date.  

In any case, I occasionally read articles that say the Mt. Gox experience shows that bitcoins are an unusable and ultimately doomed form of currency because they’re a digital only medium and that they’ll always be open to fraud and theft because of it.  I laugh at those people.  Have they looked at our modern banking system and realized that 99% of the money in the world now only exists in digital format somewhere, sometimes with hard copy, but generally not?  Yes, we’ve had more time to figure out how to secure the banking systems, but they’re still mostly digital.  And eventually someone will do the same to a bank as was done to Mt. Gox.

*Doxed:  to have your personal information discovered or stolen and published on the Internet.

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Jan 06 2014

Still going to RSA

In the last couple of weeks Mikko Hyponnen from anti-virus company F-Secure announced that he won’t be speaking at the RSA Conference in San Francisco at the end of February.  His reasoning is that the company, RSA, colluded with the NSA for a fee of $10 million in order to get a weakened version of a random number generator included in the public standards, a move that makes the whole suite of encryption standards easier to crack.  As Mikko points out, RSA has not admitted to this accusation, but they haven’t denied it either.    So Mikko has pulled his talk and has publicly stated that as a foreigner, he doesn’t feel right supporting the conference.  I understand his sentiment, I see what he’s hoping to accomplish.  But I don’t think boycotting will do much, other than gain Mikko a little bit of attention short term and harm his reputation long term.

The first problem with boycotting the conference is that RSAC is, for all intents and purposes, a side company from the RSA corporation.  It has it’s own management structure, it’s own bottom line, it’s own profit and loss reporting.  And it’s only a small fraction of the overall revenue stream of the corporation. As such, any impact that boycotting the conference might have is going to be highly dilluted when it reaches the management of the central corporation.  Yes, at some point in a meeting it will be discussed that a speaker has withdrawn over NSA concerns, maybe even a dozen other speakers will join in a show of allegance.  But the conference organizers will simply pick from the dozens of alternative speakers of nearly equal capability and move on.  Senior management might lose two or three minutes of sleep that night, but nothing more.  And any impact that having a particular speaker boycott has can easily be written off as being from other, much larger changes that RSA is making to the conference lay out this year. 

The second problem I have is that while Mikko has stated he’ll be boycotting the RSA Conference, he’s said absolutely nothing about F-Secure boycotting.  As a vendor, I know that marketing departments have to commit to the conference at least a year in advance and I’ve heard that some commit to multi-year contracts in order to get better pricing.  The small booths at either end of the halls cost tens of thousands of dollars, while the big booths in the center of the floor cost the vendors several hundred thousand dollars when all is said and done.  If Mikko wanted to make a statement that would really be heard, he’d have F-Secure withdraw from the RSA Conference this year and for the next few years.  Except he can’t.  Any vendor that’s mid-size or larger in the security field has to be at the RSA conference.  In many cases, this conference is the keystone for the whole marketing effort of the year, and any talk of a boycott would be immediately quashed as an impossibility.  Quite frankly, if you’re a security vendor and you don’t have a presence at RSA, you’re not really a security vendor and everyone knows it.  

The third issue I have with the boycott has nothing to do with Mikko and is closely related to the vendor point; it’s become a popular meme since Mikko’s announcement for security professionals to say they’re going to boycott RSA as well.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never paid to go to RSA, I’ve always had a press pass, gone as a vendor, or gone as a speaker, more than once as all three at the same time.  But even if I was, the money I’d pay to go to RSA is still insignificant when you compare it to what the organization makes off of the sponsors.  It would take a huge number of attendees failing to show up in order to make an impact.  Given the growth rate of the converence over the last few years, it’s most likely that even a thousand people joining up in a boycott would simply lead to a flat growth rate at best.  Additionally, similar to vendors, most people who are attending and have their company pay for it have already purchased their tickets and a boycott at this point would be more detrimental to them than it could be to the RSA Conference.

If you think that NSA has been behaving badly and you really want to have an impact, go to the event and talk to people at the event.  If you’re a speaker, change your talk to include a slide or ten about what you believe RSA has done wrong.  You might be right or you might be wrong, but you’ll have a chance to tell your story to the several hundred people in your audience.  If you’re an attendee, go to the conference and talk to other attendees, tell them why you think the RSA Corporation has crossed the line and spread the word.  You gain almost nothing by throwing a temper tantrum and leaving the playground.  But if you attend, talk to people and raise awareness of the issues, you let others know that something isn’t right, something needs to be changed.

I wish Mikko the best, and maybe his boycott has raised awareness some.  But all the people who say “Me too!” aren’t going to have an impact.  They might feel better about themselves for a short period of time, but all their really doing is cutting themselves off from one of the biggest events in security.  It’s better to attend, be social and spread your opinions that opt out and leave your voice unheard.  I’m attending as a blogger, as a podcaster, as a speaker (panelist, really) and as a vendor.  It would have more impact on me and my career to boycott than it ever would to the RSA corporation.  

If you really want to send the RSA Corporation, quit buying their products and tell them why.  Now that’s a message they’ll hear loud and clear.



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Dec 04 2013

Everyone’s moving to PFS

Last month I wrote about Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) for the Akamai corporate blog.  But if you’d asked me two months earlier what PFS was, you would have seen me madly scrambling for Google to find out more about it.  And I’m not alone; before this summer only a few deeply technical engineers had heard of PFS, almost everyone else had either never encountered it or dismissed it as an unnecessary burden on their servers.  Except the NSA managed to change that perception over the summer.

Now most companies are looking at PFS, or looking at it again.  In a nutshell, PFS is a method used with SSL that creates a temporary key to transmit the session keys for the browser session and then dumps key from memory afterward.  You can use words like ‘ephemeral elliptic curve cryptography’, but the important part of this is that PFS enables a method of encrypting SSL communications that don’t rely on the master key on the server to protect your traffic, it creates a new key every time.  This means that even if that master key is somehow compromised, it doesn’t allow access to all the traffic for that SSL certificate, the attacker must crack each and every session individually.   Which means you have to have a lot more computing power at your disposal to crack more than a few conversations.

PFS is a good idea we should have instantiated some time ago, but it’s got a downside in that it requires a lot of server overhead. But having to view our own governments as the enemy has given tech companies around the globe the impetus to make the change to PFS.  Google is moving towards encrypting all traffic by default, with PFS being part of this effort.  Facebook has moved in the same direction, with PFS also being a critical piece in the protection puzzle.  And Twitter.  And Microsoft.  And … you get the picture.  Companies are moving to use PFS across the board because it gives them a tool they can point to in order to tell users that they really care about securing end user communications.

I have to applaud these companies for taking this step, but even more, I have to hand it to Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft for challenging the current status quo of National Security Letters and the secrecy they entail.  There are more questions than answers when it comes to how NSL’s are being used, if they’re necessary and if they are even something a country like the US should be allowing.  Technology is great and it’ll help with some of the problems we’re just starting to understand, but the only long term changes are going to come if we examine the current issues with the NSA and other agencies slurping up every available byte of data for later analysis.  Changes to the laws probably won’t stop anything immediately, but we have to have the conversation.

Using PFS is just a start in to what will be fundamental changes in the Internet.  Encryption everywhere has to become an integral part of the Internet, something privacy boffins have been saying for years.  It may be too late for this to be an effective measure, but we have to do something. PFS makes for a pretty good first step.

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Oct 14 2013

Your email won’t be any safer over here

I’m not sure why anyone has the illusion that their data would be safer in Europe than it might be in the US.  While some of the countries in Europe seem to have better laws for protecting email, it’s not a clear cut thing and there are always trade-offs.  While they might have better protections for data at rest, while in transit it might be fair game, or vice versa.  Plus, if you’re an American, you’re the foreigner to those nations, so many of the protections you might think you’re getting are null and void for you.

Rather than simply speculate, as many of us do, Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica has written an article, Europe Won’t Save You: Why Email is Probably Safer in the US.  If you examine the laws closely, you’ll find that while countries like Germany appear to have stronger privacy laws, some of the caveats and edge cases make a lie of that appearance.  In this particular example, German law puts a  gag order in place by default that prevents your service provider from notifying you in case they’re served with a subpoena or similar device.  Think on that for a moment: if your service provider is served, you’ll never hear about it by default, rather than only when the large intelligence agencies take an interest in you.

Since I moved to the UK I’ve been hip deep in similar arguments with regards to cloud service providers.  Many folks in and around Europe seem to think that their own laws will somehow protect them from the threat of having their data raided by the NSA or some other, even more shadowy US organization.  But the reality is that in many countries they have less protection from their own governments than they do from the US.  Which barely scratches the fact that the core internet routers in many, if not all, countries are compromised by multiple governments, who are getting feeds of every packet that flows across their infrastructure.

The other concern that I hear quite often is about US businesses and information leaving the European Union.  I find this concern interesting, and believe it is likely to be a much more legitimate issue.  In the EU, the data protection laws appear to be much stronger than they are in the US, especially the Safe Harbor Principles.  But the reality is that businesses see the value of having as much personal information as they can get their hands on, so Safe Harbor is given lip service, while the businesses find ways to get around these requirements.  Or in many cases, ask users to opt out of some of the protections to get additional functionality out of a site.

Don’t think that hosting your email or other service is going to protect you if a government wants to get its digital fingers into your email.  As Farivar points out, the closest thing you’ll have to privacy is if you store your email on your own devices and encrypt it with your own encryption keys.  Storing it anywhere else leaves you open to all sorts of questionable privacy laws between you and your hosting provider.  You can’t just consider the jurisdiction you’re in, you have to consider every route your data might take between point A and point Z.  Being the Internet, you’ll never know exactly what route that is going to be.

Personally, I’m not pulling the plug on my Gmail account any time soon.  No government is worse than Google when it comes to intrusive monitoring of your email, lets be honest.

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Oct 06 2013

Invasive monitoring at next Winter Olympics

If you have plans to go to the next Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, prepare to have any and all of your electronic communications monitored.  The Guardian has found paperwork, including procurement documents and tenders, looking for the technology needed to monitor all communications to and from the Olympic venue.  We have to assume that this means all phone calls, all wifi access and is very likely to include ways to break into other, supposedly encrypted, channels such as Skype and the TOR network.

It’s really nothing new to think of governments monitoring the communications going on at the Olympics, but the sheer size and depth to which the Russian government will be monitoring is more than a bit daunting.  Given the current environment and the fact that citizens from every walk of life are more sensitive than ever to being spied upon, it’s very likely that this will receive more attention than if it had happened at the London Olympics.  And because it’s Russia that’s doing the monitoring, rather than a western power, it makes it more suspect in many people’s eyes.

One of the scary aspects the Guardian story hints at is that monitoring won’t be aimed simply at the security and safety of attendees of the Olympics, it will also be aimed at political dissidents and ‘illegal’ activities, such as gay rights activism.  Adding to that the probability that all data captured during the Olympics is going to be stored indefinitely and analyzed in depth, anyone who holds views that are unpopular in Russian government should be very, very nervous.  I won’t be surprised to see a number of Russian citizens who attend the Olympics arrested three to six months later as the government gets around to analyzing their communications.  Or to have these communications surfacing years later to embarrass dissidents.

Yes, I’m paranoid.  But if I have an opportunity to attend the Olympics in Sochi, I’ll have to think twice before accepting it.  I’ll take a number of precautions similar to what I’d take if I was attending a big event in China: burner phone with a local SIM, laptop that will be retired after the event, email address that only gets used during the Olympics, just for starters.  I’d also be very cognizant of the fact that I’m being monitored every moment, with my movements being analyzed by computer algorithms as well as human agents.  Most importantly, I would avoid any reading that would raise my paranoia level higher than it already was before or during the trip.

Most people will be oblivious to the monitoring at the Olympic games.  And for most people, that’s a price they’re willing to pay in order to see one of the biggest events in the world.  Which could be the right decision for the average Joe.  But if you’re not the average Joe, if you have opinions or tendencies that are unpopular with the Russian government, think twice about taking some precautions before you head to the Olympics in 2014.

Last of all, remember, the monitoring of electronic communications will just part of the equation.  There will be mics and cameras everywhere as well.  Probably even the bathrooms.

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Oct 02 2013

Malicious compliance from Lavabit

This was a brilliant move from Ladar Levison, the owner of the now shuttered private email service, Lavabit.  When the FBI compelled him to give up the encryption keys to his service for Edward Snowden, Levison complied, though quite a bit maliciously; the keys were given to the FBI in printed form on 11 pages of 4 point font.  I’m not sure why 5 512-bit encryption keys would require 11 pages at that size, but I have to approve of his method of delivery.

The disturbing part of this story isn’t how Levison delivered the keys to the FBI, but rather the overreach of the FBI to try to read the email of one person.  Apparently, the FBI agents weren’t satisfied with having the keys required to decrypt their target’s email, they actually wanted the master encryption keys to Lavabit’s entire archive.  This would have given them access to the email of 400,000 people who had subscribed to the Lavabit service, the equivalent of the city of Milwaukee.  It’s still not clear why this level of access is needed in order to investigate the crimes of one person, which the judge apparently agreed with, since he quashed the motion as well as the motion to put a gag order on Levison.

I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Levison, so I can’t make any comments on his personality or ethics, but I have to applaud his efforts to protect the privacy of his clients, to the point of having to close his business.  If Microsoft, Google and other tech giants had shown even a fraction of his willpower to push back on a law enforcement regime that has been pushing it’s power to the edge of abuse and past it, we’d be having a very different discussion in public right now.  Except most citizens of the US have already forgotten that this conversation is even going on.  Europe, on the other hand, is very aware.

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Nov 20 2012

Network Security Podcast, Episode 297

It’s Rich that’s out this holiday week, so Martin and Zach talk turkey (no pun intended) about Skype SNAFUs, LTE going all a-splode-y, and a Linux rootkit that will make you go “That’s…neat…?”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Network Security Podcast, Episode 297, November 20, 2012

Time:  31:00

Show notes:

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Jun 06 2012

Dumping LinkedIn passwords

*** Dire Warning ***
If you’re in the habit of reusing passwords AT ALL, 1) stop it! 2) if you have a LinkedIn account change your password immediately on as many sites as you can remember.  Then get yourself a password management program (like 1Password or LastPass) with a random password creator and learn to use it for all sites.
*** Dire Warning ***

Now that the dire warnings are out of the way, let’s look at what happened.  This morning it was disclosed that 6.5 million LinkedIn password hashes were posted online.  LinkedIn was not using a salted hash for storing passwords, which means that while the passwords can’t be decrypted in any way, attacking the password file by dictionary attacks and other similar methods are very effective.  Additionally, the 6.5 million hashes are each unique, meaning that they represent a much larger portion of the LinkedIn passwords, possibly even the entire database.  One of the best analysis of the password hashes and what they mean was done over at Hacker News and covers a lot of what the disclosed hashes mean in really geeky terms.  Another great resource, thrown up by Robert Graham this morning, lets you take a password to see if your password is amongst those stolen.  If you don’t find your password in the database, try replacing the first 5-6 characters with zeros and look again. 

The other point I wanted to make was that while LinkedIn’s response (1, 2) to this compromise hasn’t been atrocious, it’s been far from being a good example of how to do compromise disclosure.  If you want a good example, look at the recent post mortem writeup by CloudFlare, stating in great detail how they’d been compromised so others could learn from their problems.  I’m willing to give the LinkedIn team and Vicente Silveira the benefit of the doubt and assume they learned about the password file at the same time as everyone else, but their initial reaction was to say they were looking into it, even though a number of security professionals had already stated their passwords were definitely in the file.  When they did admit it was their database a few hours later, they stated they had ‘enhanced’ their security to include hashing and salting of the database.  I can only assume the enhanced security measures were put in place this morning, and I’d give them more credit if they’d admitted that instead of making it seem like it was something they’d already planned to do.  I do have to give them kudo’s for reacting quickly and giving users concrete steps to take in response to the compromise, but they lose at least as many points for not being up front about what’s really happening.  Of course, that may be because of the Marketing and PR departments more than anything, but I’m not willing to cut either of those departments any slack for a security incident.

Of course, this is all injury added to the assault that was disclosed yesterday, the fact that the LinkedIn mobile application collects all of your calendar notes.  And since they had your calendar data and there’s a possibility your account was compromised, if you’re using the LinkedIn iPhone app, you’d better assume all of your calendar data is also compromised.  I hope you didn’t have any important or sensitive information in your calendar!

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Jun 21 2011

Network Security Podcast, Episode 244

Published by under Cloud,Encryption,Podcast

Martin is back from Vienna, but Zach is off in NYC. Thus Rich and Martin catch up, talk about the cloud security class and the rest of the security news. Martin is surprisingly coherent despite the jetlag.  Some might argue that Zach is one of the few things that keep Martin and Rich from rambling at length.  And they might be right.

Network Security Podcast, Episode 244, June 21, 2011
Time:  37:36

Show Notes:


2 responses so far

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