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Encryption Security

News.com: Crypto Doesn't Kill - People Do 259

Posted by timothy
from the aa*jTYnd8-H//Im dept.
McSpew writes: "Bravo to News.com for telling the truth about cryptography. They even cited /.'s coverage of Phil Zimmerman's real views on PGP and its possible role in any terrorist acts." On a per-word basis, this may be the best summary of why calls to ban or restrict encryption technology (as with government key escrow, or constrained key sizes) has little to do with enhancing national or world security.
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News.com: Crypto Doesn't Kill - People Do

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  • by 91degrees (207121) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @08:37AM (#2367591) Journal
    It's quite a valid observation that terorists can write their own software. I managed to write an implementation of RSA in about a day from descriptions only, and that included writing my own big integers library.
    • Me too. Based only on a short newspaper article I read in the 'The Daily Telegraph' when I was 16 and implemented it in a week in assembly. And now there are detailed papers available on how to do it on the internet.

      I don't see the point at all. Terrorists won't use the escrowed codes; and there are probably plenty of ways to hide messages where the law enforcement agencies won't notice them.
    • by Pseudonym (62607) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @09:05AM (#2367656)

      Well, RSA isn't exactly a full cryptosystem by itself, but this does show how easy it is.

      To review the OpenPGP RFC prior to publication, I re-implemented PGP's decryption and signature checking operations working just from the spec. Admittedly I didn't write my own big integer library, but I did implement 3DES and SHA-1 myself.

      It took a week.

      And remember, most of that was getting the details of the protocol correct. (I spent a day just getting PKCS encoding right, for example. That's unfortunately not in the OpenPGP spec.) A terrorist who was not trying for inter-operability with PGP probably need not bother with that.


    • Perhaps you are trying to get some karma as "funny", but I once actually did something like that, after reading a couple of Byte magazine articles, specifically, in the March and April 1979 issues.


      It would be more sensible to assume most terrorists aren't so sophisticated. But, in that case, they wouldn't depend on computers for encryption. They would use code phrases, one-way pads, and many other methods that do not depend on computers.


      In the end, the people most affected by encryption limiting laws would be common middle-class citizens in the developed nations, people who do on-line shopping and banking, or who use credit cards for any purchases. Remember, you don't need to do any on-line shopping to be vulnerable if your local shopkeepers keep your credit card numbers in vulnerable computers.

      • by Sly Mongoose (15286)
        It would be more sensible to assume most terrorists aren't so sophisticated.
        Actually, it would be more sensible not to underestimate terrorists.

        (Sheesh! You'd think 11-SEP would have taught people this!)
      • In the end, the people most affected by encryption limiting laws would be common middle-class citizens in the developed nations, people who do on-line shopping and banking, or who use credit cards for any purchases. Remember, you don't need to do any on-line shopping to be vulnerable if your local shopkeepers keep your credit card numbers in vulnerable computers.


        My local shopkeeper had fucking well better not be keeping my credit card number anywhere at all, least of all on a "vulnerable computer"!

      • I don't think he is a troll, although a lot of people will think so. To implement RSA you only need to multiply, add, and find the remainder on a large number.

        There's a T-shirt with an implementation in Perl; theoretically it's illegal to export from the US; but it probably comes under 'free speech'.
    • It's quite a valid observation that ter[r]orists can write their own software.

      Not just write their own, there is a heap of good working encryption stuff, including steganography, available outside the USA for essentially no effort. The effect of outlawing encryption (or legislating key-escrow) will be to leave ``real'' encryption only in the hands of the terrorists and other outlaws.

      The gun people have a saying ``If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.'' They're right, in a general sense, but this catch-cry is a two-edged sword. If guns (or truly secure encryption) is outlawed, ordinary people who must use them for their reasonable daily business will be, by definition, outlaws.

      The idea of laws scaring terrorists is unbelievably stupid, thick, dumb, brainless, naive, irresponsible and many other bad things. It reminds me of the locality which has a $500 fine for detonating a nuclear explosive within city limits. If the cost of your terror mission against ``the great satan'' is your own life and the lives of many others what difference is the threat of a fine or jail term - or for that matter even a death sentence - ever going to make to you?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Watch the administration crack down on these seditious websites soon.

    All for improving the homeland security, of course.

  • The problem I see, is that most people view somethings that's encrypted as something more tangable. They want to be able to get their hands on it. They assume simply because people want to hide what a message says, it must be bad/evil. I'd like to be able to keep all my info private.

    CIA officials just need to find better ways of snooping on people.

    • Very well put. Perhaps this means that instead of "defending" encryption, the geeks of the world should be:

      1) Using it more.

      2) Convincing non-Geeks that it is a good idea to use.


      Put simple encryption in everybody's home and they will realize that it isn't exclusively the tool of evil, it's just a tool that people use for privacy on the internet.

  • one-time pads (Score:5, Insightful)

    by corebreech (469871) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @08:43AM (#2367610) Journal
    A good article that could be made better by emphasizing the one-time pad cipher.

    The one-time pad is a very easy cipher to explain to lay people. They need no understanding of math, not even arithmetic.

    Anybody, anywhere can create a one-time pad by simply flipping a coin or rolling the dice, and use the resulting information to encrypt a message that is impervious to all manners of cryptoanalysis, even techniques made possible by the much-feared though yet-to-be-stocked quantum computer.

    In other words, you can create a encrypted message without encryption software or even a computer, and yet be assured that the message is unreadable by any computer devisable today or anytime in the future.

    There should be no debate here. Military-grade cryptography is available to anyone with a penny in their pocket and a sheet of paper and pencil.

    We need to stop wasting time talking about this.
    • Re:one-time pads (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bostik (92589)

      Yes, and then you'd need to securely transmit that one-time pad to the person receiving your message. You still haven't solved the Catch 22 here.

      Albeit, quantum crypto can solve this. Despite the fancy name, it's nothing more than a secure way to transmit regular encryption keys. It's just not practical at the moment. And large messages with one-time pads? The key would be as big as the original message. Thank you, but for regular use I'd choose good block ciphers any day.

    • Re:one-time pads (Score:2, Informative)

      by nyjx (523123)
      Er, this totally ignores the massive problem with one time pads which is distribution. One time pads are uncrackable (unless you keep reusing them) but:
      1. You have to get a copy to the person you're communicating with.
      2. If your pad becomes compromised - somebody else gets a copy all your messages are compromised and it's much easier to size a book of codes than a private key.
      Add to that lack of non-repudiation and the like and its not so hot for everyday use...
      • Re:one-time pads (Score:2, Insightful)

        by corebreech (469871)
        Yes but I think you're missing the point.

        It may not be an ideal manner of encrypting your data, but it is one that will always be with us, regardless of what we do.

        The point is to find a way of explaining to lay people that any controls they want to place on cryptography are pointless.

        For terrorists, the one-time pad is more than suitable.
        • Re:one-time pads (Score:2, Interesting)

          by nyjx (523123)
          I don't agree. I think lay people understand that there will always be ways to encrypt things which cannot be broken. The fundamental question is why are the technologies which make this as easy as sending an email?

          I don't agree that one-time pads are sustainable for terrorists. Getting the same valid code book to a number of members in several countries? many of who might not know or trust each other?, regularly changing the code? using it for every messages.

          At best u'd prob use one time pads to encode your daily keys for some other (faster and automatic) encryption mechanism.

          Besides ,in the end you will still be sending a message which makes no sense of any kind (the encrypted string). The FBI will come kocking on your door and say (prob not very politely) that they want the key. This is exactly the same result you would get if you used PGP and hadn't surrendered the key.

          This is why stenography is so hot - you encode stuff in traffic which looks "innocent" so no one even knows you are sending an encrypted message.

          • I don't agree that one-time pads are sustainable for terrorists.

            They were sustainable for soviet spies in the US.
            Besides ,in the end you will still be sending a message which makes no sense of any kind (the encrypted string). The FBI will come kocking on your door and say (prob not very politely) that they want the key.

            You mean like numbers stations [google.com]? Whose door does the FBI knock on? These stations have been around for a long time.

            Anyhow, spies and terrorists don't need machine cryptography. Until the advent of the PC, any encryption machine would be very suspicious item to have in a residence. Machine cryptography is a boon to military forces because they need to exchange a lot of data to coordinate activities in real time. Spies and terrorists don't seem to work that way. Do you think the terrorist pilots were reporting how each day of flight training went?
          • Besides ,in the end you will still be sending a message which makes no sense of any kind (the encrypted string). The FBI will come kocking on your door and say (prob not very politely) that they want the key. This is exactly the same result you would get if you used PGP and hadn't surrendered the key.

            A perfectly encrypted message is indistinguishable from noise. And if they start arresting people for poor line quality, well...

            Oddly enough, there's that British law that says you have to surrender passwords and keys upon request. Punishable by several years as a guest of the state. Was that just proposed or was it actually passed?
          • The fundamental question is why are the technologies which make this as easy as sending an email?

            Because my colleague at work need to send me a new Kerberos key when my laptop gets compromised.

            Like my sig says, internet security depends on strong cryptography. Full stop.

    • I realise you might be a troll, but incase that is not so:

      A one-time pad is only applicable in an extremely narrow range of situations. If you have a secure channel to transfer the one-time pad why bother with encryption in the first place? If you transfer the the pad in advance, before you need to send a message, you practically end up with a codebook situation. That pad must to somehow be secured like a codebook or it is useless.

      One-time pads is a wonderful theoretical idea but one that is useless in most real world applications.

      • Re:one-time pads (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sly Mongoose (15286) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @11:25AM (#2367961) Homepage
        If you have a secure channel to transfer the one-time pad why bother with encryption in the first place?
        Because you can exchange fat one-time pads when all the conspirators are crouched around a camel-dung fire one night. Then use the pad for secure communications over the weeks and months that follow.
        That pad must to somehow be secured like a codebook or it is useless.
        It is much more difficult to frisk every person on the street looking for a one-time pad than it is to CARNIVORE every e-mail on the backbone and peek through the backdoor.
        One-time pads is a wonderful theoretical idea but one that is useless in most real world applications.
        If secure communications are required and backdoors are a threat, the inconvenience will have to be tolerated.

        • Thanks for finally summing this up correctly by keeping the context of the discussion relevant. We're talking about crypto for communications between terrorists, not for HTTPS. And considering that the encryption is ABSOLUTELY uncrackable, it's awfully cheap.

          Here's a real scenario for it's use:

          We are planning this around the campfire. Your mission is to go into a foreign country and wait for the message. When you get it, decrypt it with a perl script, a password, and a one-time pad. The one-time pad will be a piece of digital data, something you can get anywhere and carry without suspicion, like a software installation program or ascii copy of, say, a religious text, or even the logo from the FBI's website. The perl script asks you for the password, uses it as a seed for some kind of pseudo-random garbage, Xors that with the digital data pad, and decrypts the message. I will now tell you the URL where you can download the perl script when the time comes, the source of the one-time pad, and the password. Goodbye.

          How the fuck is Carnivore or laws for crypto backdoors supposed to stop that? Law enforcement wouldn't even know what to look for. The second you propose techniques for analysing this (we know our pad is going to be a little less than truly random, for instance), I'll propose a slightly different way of doing the whole thing (like varying the way the pseudo-random data from the pass-seed and the pad key work), and your technique won't work. That's the whole point of the one-time pad; you can't crack it next time, because there is no next time (especially in a suicide attack!), and right now you are too late. How exactly can you expect any sort of law enforcement to crack this, or even know what to look for without actually sitting around the campfire with us?

      • Excuse me? My mother was a code clerk for DoS. One-time pads were used daily, and quite effectively, thank you very much.

        Sure, there are distribution issues, but those are issues, not show-stoppers.

        Remember that terrorism and espionage are dangerous activities. Risk is to be balanced, not eliminated, and perfect solutions aren't particularly sought, just effective ones. If a terrorist's belongings are searched in detail, he's already blown, so write him off and move on.

        I'm reminded of a comment from the IRA after a foiled attempt to kill a member of the royal family. Roughly (from memory), they said, "You were lucky. You'll have to be lucky every time. We only have to be lucky once."

  • by 4thAce (456825) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @08:44AM (#2367614) Homepage
    No doubt there are any number of capable computer scientists in the Middle East and Central Asia whom these groups can turn to in a pinch for technical assistance.

    They could post their encryption concerns to a site http://slashdot.af/index.pl?section=askslashdot for instance. But I don't think the Taliban would let them call the intellectual currency "karma."

  • Crypto Kills (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2001 @08:46AM (#2367617)
    Re read that article, but swap every occurrence of "crypto" with "guns".

    Now you know what all the gun nuts were talking about.

    It's already been done wth handguns - I figured all guns were next, but looks like crypto is next.
    • The main purpose of crypto is not to directly inflict harm upon another human being.
      The main purpose of a gun is to inflict harm upon another human being.
      'nuf said.

      /Mikael Jacobson
      • Re:Crypto Kills (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fredbsd (311595)
        Ahh...wrong again.

        Guns are used in a variety of SPORTS (target shooting being a classic example). The purpose of a gun is determined by the shooter. Just like the purpose of crypto.

        Before people start whining about their rights and freedom of , they should contimplate what freedom actually means and how it affects everyone. It's pretty amusing to read the posts here on /. People all cry when THEIR interests are threatened, but the same people could care less about freedoms being taken away from other groups. Taxation is a classic example. How many times have you seen /.'ers gripe when someone actually wants to cut spending on the NASA budget? Since when is space exploration a 'right'? If you don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. Not exactly 'freedom' is it?

        Guns may be instruments of death to some people, but they are a hobby to others. It depends on the person holding the gun. Crypto should be viewed in the same way.
        • Re:Crypto Kills (Score:2, Interesting)

          by fatpenguin (91224)
          Guns are used in a variety of SPORTS (target shooting being a classic example). The purpose of a gun is determined by the shooter. Just like the purpose of crypto.


          Yes, but weapons can be used to attack someone. Crypto may only be used in a defensive way. To actually kill someone, people still need a weapon (e.g. a gun, a plane, a car or whatever).


          On the other hand, nobody even thinks of restricting the free use of, for example, cars.
          That is because people are accustomed to cars, they use them daily and they understand why they are useful. They don't see them as possible deadly weapons but as part of their daily life.


          That's why it is essential to propagate encryption as the natural way for everyone to send emails. It would also help to use some less technical word instead of crypto. I would rather refer to it as a kind of "envelope". That's an image that even Joe Average can easily understand.

          • Re:Crypto Kills (Score:2, Insightful)

            by fredbsd (311595)
            Yes, guns can and are used to attack someone. But crypto can and is used to plan an attack like the one we just witnessed on 11 September. I would say that was not defensive in nature. Mr. bin Laden is KNOWN to use crypto to plan his attacks, making it an offensive weapon in todays information age. Sad, but true.

            I don't want crypto banned/regulated. My point was pretty simple: we should be defending all freedoms, not just those that affect our personal interests. The gun issue just highlights the hypocrisy flying around this country.

            I am just as paranoid about a police state as the next geek. But I also have the ability to look objectively at any given situation.
            • Mr. bin Laden is KNOWN to use crypto

              Can you cite any real evidence of that whatsoever?
          • Re:Crypto Kills (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Sly Mongoose (15286)
            On the other hand, nobody even thinks of restricting the free use of, for example, cars.
            A law will be passed making it illegal for non-Americans to rent or buy aircraft, so they can't be used as weapons in future. And I am awaiting the new regulations requiring a Federal License to own a Carpet Knife.

            Look, we'd better wise up. All this heavy spate of legislatory excess WRT Cyber-crime and encryption, etc is NOT because of 11-SEP at all. The tradgedy has simply given then a gigantic bandwagon with which to roll over those opposed to their plans. They have always wanted to clamp an iron fist on the throat of eFreedom, and this is just the excuse they need.

            There is no point in showing them that these efforts won't help against terrorism. They are not introducing them for use against terrorists. They are introducing them for use against US. "To protect the children", of course.
      • That's a bit simplistic. Guns and crypto are both ways to assert power. While the direct goal of a gun is to kill, the indirect goal is to control the situation. That could be a robber taking control of a store, or an army taking control of a nation. Or it could be a storekeeper maintaing control of a store against a robber, or an army defending a nation (denying control to outsiders).

        The direct goal of crypto is to turn communicatons into impenetrable noise. The indirect goal (frequently) is to coordinate the actions of numerous individuals or groups without disclosing those actions to opponents. In other words, to gain or maintain control of a situation.

        The real issue is not killing; it is control. Humans have a deep-seated need to control others, whether it's expressed through slavery, communism, corporatism, imperialism or imprisonment. And likewise, we have a deep-seated need to evade the control of others - to assert self-control.

        Guns and crypto are both tools for asserting control, of others or of oneself.
    • Say "speech". You figured guns were next, but it looks like speech is next. Crypto is for geeks. Everyone wants free speech. And that's what we're talking about.
  • by pantherace (165052) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @08:54AM (#2367628)
    The addition of crypto backdoors to the programs will create a security hole, and it would be HUGE. The hole would be there, and a single cracker who figured it out would have a security hole in everything. The fear of that vulnerability, EVEN IF NOT KNOWINGLY EXPLOITED WOULD CAUSE A LOSS IN CONFIDENCE ABOUT COMPUTER SECURITY. The secnarios are endless, from all 'secure' online purchases, security of propriatary code, finacial records, etc. If say amazon, paypal, and ebay got hacked, there would be a major problem in the USA. Especially now with the knee-jerk reactions, people have, and the sudden concerns about 'security'. The thing that kept the US economy up for so long was consumer confidence, and spending, and I believe that this will contribute to an unmeasureable but significant decline in each.

    (This coming from a geek trying to put it in a language that many marketers, politicians, economists, etc could understand, who actually dislikes most businesses today.)

  • Who will it hurt? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by serps (517783) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @08:58AM (#2367639) Homepage
    The simple fact of the matter is that the latest calls for key escrow/backdoors to encryption, just like the ban on exporting 'strong encryption' during the 90's, will in the end only hurt the US.
  • Great little piece. The bad news is that most of us all here have already been nodding at this argument furiously for so long, migraines are setting in.. What this needs is to be disseminated amounst the sheeple in the same carcinogenic manor as half assed "Nostradamus Predicted this" emails that have filled my box faster then sircam did.


    Crypto Doesn't Kill - People Do


    The second amendment of the statue of liberty clearly states: "cool guys shall have the unalienable liberty to wield strong crypto in order to insure against the prospect of a tyrannical state." Or at least I think it does, I am not sure as I have been playing Wolfstenstien for the last six day in a row and can't be bothered to check.

    When crypto is outlawed, only outlaws will have crypto. You can have my copy of PGP when you pull if from my cold dead fingers!

  • by pricorde (124290) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @09:09AM (#2367662)
    The FBI has found hand-written order letters in the baggages of terrorists.
    Is this PGP ?
    NO !
    So why does the crypto=terrorist meme still continues ?
    Paradoxically, paper letters are a more secure way to transmit information than the internet...

    • Re:Stop this mess ! (Score:5, Informative)

      by peppy (312411) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @11:16AM (#2367934)
      It seems the terrorists didn't even bother to encrypt their emails either according to this article [guardian.co.uk] in the UK Guardian newspaper.

      "FBI investigators had been able to locate hundreds of email communications, sent 30 to 45 days before the attack....According to the FBI, the conspirators had not used encryption or concealment methods. Once found, the emails could be openly read."

  • Long ago when PGP was first announced I had a key generated. I have long since forgot about using PGP until PZ's /. post.

    I have since installed, and configured PGP and GNU/GPG software on my home and work machines and am making active use of signing my documents. Not only that I've helped several others do the same thing.

    Also, in my crypto-arsenal is OpenSSH which is a godsend to me since I no longer use telnet or ftp services on any of my computers accessible to the internet.

    It's not that I worry about who is listening, or why; I have nothing to hide. I know that if someone is listening, they won't get squat out of my communications.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @09:19AM (#2367679) Homepage
    The security agencies are already checking through most or a statistical useful percentage of the bytes that flow over the US internet, and are characterising it all. Their actions only make sense if they are doing that.

    Anyone using encryption stands out; so they write a file on them.

    Where they find encrypted data they can't characterise it any further; so they hit a brick wall. But its not common right now, so they can make a file. However, if everyone on the internet routinely uses uncrackable encryption they can't build a file on everyone.

    On the other hand, if they have key escrow they can blow away the encryption on all the legitimate data and they are left with 'illegal' encryption; except presumably terrorists and other malcontents; a much smaller group that they can write files on.

    Of course this 'monitor all the traffic on the internet idea' falls down in several other ways. As an example, suppose somebody creates a Quake III server that has some sort of low bandwidth messaging in it perhaps the player steps left at careful timed moments or something, the characterisation by the NSA would be, oh its just another Quake player, when really its sending an encrypted message as well. [I just made that Quake idea up- its called 'steganography' in general, hiding encrypted messages in something else.]

    Anyway, that's really what's going on. The security agencies are using the WTC disaster as a chance to get their legislation through whilst the going is good. Of course anyone with any sense can evade it, but not every terrorist has sense.

    • Or even more handy for them. If they manage to make strong crypto illegal ( or non-escrowed crypto ), than they don't even need to bother with key escrow, just scan for instances of non-escrowed crypto and start laying charges. Who cares if you can even read whats being said if the act of using cryptographic software itself is an act of terrorism.
      • If they manage to make strong crypto illegal ( or non-escrowed crypto ), than they don't even need to bother with key escrow, just scan for instances of non-escrowed crypto and start laying charges.

        Except that all you need to do is doubly-encrypt your messages - first with strong crypto, then with government-approved crypto. This can't be detected without going through the legal process of obtaining a key, so widespread scanning for non-approved crypto will only turn up the conscientious objectors and a few really dumb folk. Then again, some people say stupidity should be a crime...

    • by rknop (240417) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @12:03PM (#2368084) Homepage

      On the other hand, if they have key escrow they can blow away the encryption on all the legitimate data and they are left with 'illegal' encryption; except presumably terrorists and other malcontents; a much smaller group that they can write files on.

      You already note one good way of getting past this: stenography, hiding the message in something that looks legitimate. (Your low-bandwidth Quake motion idea was a good one.) There is another: nested encryption. Presumably, unless somebody is already suspected, the monitoring agencies aren't going to be allowed to read the contents of all of this mail and so forth without a warrant. (Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm being foolish, but bear with me.) As such, all they will be able to do is verify that the message is encrypted with a legal, escrow-available key.

      So somebody wanting to use illegal encryption encrypts their message with their own crypto, and then encryptes that ciphertext with legal crypto. It will pass the sniffer, but will still be unreadable if somebody gets a warrant and uses the escrowed key on the outer crypto. It won't do the statistical guys any good since their statistics pass will say that these people are using the legal crypto just like everybody else.

      As has been noted elsewhere, trying to put controls and limits on this sort of thing is completely quixotic. The only thing which is going to make people copy is a desire to be compliant with the laws. As such, the only people that the laws hinder and restrict are the law-abiding citiziens that (theoretically) the laws aren't directed at. There are two possible motivations for these laws: one, a real misunderstanding of how quixotic trying to regulate crypto would really be. Or, two, a much more sinister desire to get the mechanism in place to monitor every citizen. Choose which motivation you think is behind all of this based on your own level of paranoia and how cynical you are about how naive our leaders are vs. how sinister they are.

      -Rob

      • > It will pass the sniffer, but will still be unreadable if somebody
        > gets a warrant and uses the escrowed key on the outer crypto.

        Nah. After they blow away the escrowed encryption on the data they run a simple 'is this any known language test' on it [these are used extensively in cryptanalysis] (e.g. check letter frequencies or something more complex). If it comes back negative they look at it some more, and if it appears encrypted they send around the boys in blue.

        Incidentally, the warrant concept is probably a real laugh a minute. Probably they have a law that allows them access to just about anything for national security reasons, or they have a pet judge, or they don't care [see arms for hostages]. You can bet there's some angle going there.

    • I actually posted a bit about this a day or two ago... Someone mentioned getting together on a quake server and communicating through jumps and basic gestures. That had a few flaws, so I tried to come up with a way you could just play the game and still communicate to an observer, yet not be conspicuous.

      The thread is at http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=21984&cid=2353 112

      But the jist of it is that you modulate your ping (at your end) and the observer factors out common ping fluctuations, to find your changes, which are based on a secret message.
      • Why not use a script that posts possible encryption schemes to slashdot? Each post would represent one 8-bit character. Each bit would be communicated by the presence or absence of a word or phrase:
        • Bit 0: Quake.
        • Bit 1: ping times.
        • Bit 2: Usenet.
        • Bit 3: Porn.
        • Bit 4: Hotmail.
        • Bit 5: Portscans.
        • Bit 6: MAC address in IPv6.
        • Bit 7: Ben Franklin quote.
    • Crypto not common?? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by alienmole (15522) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @01:57PM (#2368410)
      Where they find encrypted data they can't characterise it any further; so they hit a brick wall. But its not common right now, so they can make a file. However, if everyone on the internet routinely uses uncrackable encryption they can't build a file on everyone.

      If I understand you correctly and you're saying that crypto isn't common right now, that's not true. Salespeople around the US have been selling Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to companies for a few years now, and these encrypt all traffic between a company's sites. While there almost certainly is still much more unencrypted traffic on the net than encrypted traffic, encrypted traffic is far too common for the government to be building a file on every instance they encounter.

      Many lawyers use encrypted email because of legal precedent which makes email less legally "privileged" than say a phone conversation.

      Then there are all the /. nerds using SSH to talk to their servers. Do you think the FBI or NSA has a file on Shoeboy?

      Everyday use of encryption is a lot more common than you might imagine.

      • I think you're both right.

        As far as I can see, *email* encryption really is what the general media and the politicians do think the argument is all about. Because so far only a small fringe minority use encrypted email, the pols think it will hardly be missed; and besides, the obsessive secrecy probably indicates that the users are up to no good anyway.

        The idea of *channel* encryption probably doesn't even cross their radar. But 'alienmole' is absolutely right: the most widespread and important use of encryption at the moment is *not* email; it is the use of ssh and friends to secure public channels. And the reason these are so important is obvious -- and probably much easier to explain to the public -- in these days of crackers and virus writers: you really don't want anyone to be able to break into your channel, and interfere with your remotely-controlled telescope or heart operation or hack into your corporate network or whatever.

        The case for SSH is much easier to make than the case for PGP, because of its demonstrable real-world importance. If we can move the debate towards channel security, away from email security, it will be much easier to win.

        But of course as soon as two people can ssh into the same box and talk to each other, the banning of any other uses of encryption starts to look pretty irrelevant.

        • Good point. It had never really occurred to me that there was a difference - after all, email is just another channel - albeit a fairly inefficient one - as demonstrated by various protocols which piggyback on SMTP. But certainly, this distinction may be stronger in the minds of the public and lawmakers.

          But of course as soon as two people can ssh into the same box and talk to each other, the banning of any other uses of encryption starts to look pretty irrelevant.

          And of course, this is happening already. Without any effort on our part, beyond the initial setup of a VPN-style system, all email I exchange with colleagues is encrypted during transmission, because we all connect over a secure link to the same mail server.

          Encrypted email wasn't our intent; all we cared about is that our network wouldn't be compromised by script kiddies with a sniffer at an ISP. But the net effect is that Carnivore won't help the government if they want to read our email: they would have to get a subpoena for our private mail server, or secretly install keyloggers, etc.

          As far as I'm concerned, the war "against" encryption was lost a long time ago, and it's now just a matter of waiting for reality to catch up with the politicians. That's often a slow business, though.

    • I read a paper on secure channels a while back. There are many things you can do. My favorite was putting data into various unused bits of the TCP header. This would work particularly well with address forgery; to a watcher on the remote side the machien being watched would be getting random packets from random places. The machine could just pull out the TCP header information and assemble the message.

      Of course, to mess the watchers up some more, just blast out an E-Mail from /dev/random a few times a day. Or post a few K of random numbers on your web page that change every hour. If everyone did this, it'd be back to square one. What are you going to do? Ban the posting of random nunbers? They're just numbers.

  • by Crixus (97721) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @09:37AM (#2367724) Homepage
    One week ago today, I wrote essentially the same thing to my congress people. Here is my letter in case anyone else would like to send it to their congress critters:

    ------

    Honorable Senator xxxxxx,

    I am writing to bring to your attention the pointlessness of Senator Judd Gregg's new legislation mandating backdoors in all cryptographic products. I could make many arguments that discuss our civil liberties and the right to be secure within our papers and possessions, but that argument while true and immensely important, is not even required in this case.

    Simply put, with respect to strong cryptographic software, the "cat is out of the bag." The world is already full of good, secure cryptographic products with no backdoors. That is the case now, and was PRIOR to Congress' reduction of ITAR restrictions that kept us from exporting strong cryptographic products.

    The world is full of smart people many of whom do not work for the NSA, and do not live within the United States. These people in the civilian cryptographic world are constantly researching and developing new cryptographic techniques, which Senator Gregg's legislation WILL NOT AFFECT. No matter how many laws you pass, NOTHING will keep the BAD GUYS from being able to download this cryptographic software from European and other web sites.

    If Europe latches on to Senator Gregg's idea of mandating backdoors in all cryptographic products, then the people who want to use cryptographic products with no backdoors will simply write their own, or copy VERBATIM the computer source code for strong cryptographic software that already exists in many hundreds of published books.

    Allow me to quote Bruce Schneier, perhaps the United States' leading civilian cryptographic expert:

    "To illustrate the ease with which a cryptosystem can be implemented, I present the full code necessary for establishing a secure cryptographic channel over the internet, called the Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange. Both people communicating do the following:

    "1. Get public key (Y, P) of the other person. This is just a pair of large numbers.

    "2. Raise Y to the power of X, where X is the private key, modulo P. The result is the secret key.

    "Modular arithmetic is taught to fourth-graders under the name 'clock math,' and secret-key cryptosystems are just as easy to memorize and implement as public-key systems. I could teach any twelve-year-old how to reproduce from memory in under fifteen minutes a strong cryptosystem on any Windows machine. Any terrorist is quite capable of doing the same."

    This speaks volumes about the current state of cryptographic software in the world today, and the ease with which it can be implemented.

    If Senator Gregg's legislation is passed, it will have ZERO affect on the people who DO have things to hide from you, and will only harm the innocent citizens of the United States who wish nothing more than to insure that their banking records and private email conversations remain truly private.

    Regards,

    -----

    Rich...
    • Darn good letter. I have three suggestions which I implemented as I was customizing it for my Congresspeople:

      1. in the third paragraph, change "laws you pass" to "laws are passed" -- that way it's not pointing a finger at an individual Congressperson, or even at Congress
      2. in the last paragraph, change "from you" to "from law enforcement organizations" -- again, don't want to point a finger at Congress (at least not yet)
      3. Add a sentence to the end (the proverbial "call to action"): "Please do not support any legislation which restricts the use of cryptography." (Or something like that.)

      Thanks for posting this letter.

      cbd
      your friendly local English teacher

      • cbd your friendly local English teacher


        HEY! How would an English teacher get their letters out of order? ^

        The correct order is 'bcd' not 'cdb'. :-)

        I always enjoy having a good editor at my side. Good suggestions, thanks! :-)

        I must confess however, I was in a VERY angry mood when I wrote that and I did choose the "you" words to personalize it. As in "you fascists." :-) (YOU as in congress, not the fine slashdot readers) :-)

        Your final sentence is also a good idea.

        My friend Matt who is a very good editor usually looks my stuff over before I publish, but I didn't feel like bothering him with this one.

        Rich....
  • The Department of (In)Justice has not asked for crypto backdoors in that wish list that Congress calls the ATA. Geez, could it be because the Feds don't think they need them?

    After all, the Feds can install keystroke loggers [slashdot.org] on your 'puter, or they can call out a van full of TEMPEST equipment. The keystroke loggers require agents to physically enter the premises, which obviously requires a warrant. As for the TEMPEST equipment, no precedent exists AFAIK, but the ruling regarding thermal imaging [slashdot.org] may be helpful.

  • Now there is finally someone who understands the gun issue... On wait, this article is about encryption!

  • One thing I find interesting is that these terrorists could have just as easily used cleartext email to distribute their logistic plans. Couldn't they have just have a predetermined language and the actual emails would have looked as innocuous as someone writing their friend to meet somewhere.

    Let's meet at 7:45 in front of the Arthur Anderson school on the 11th
    Translation: You will overtake American Airlines flight 745 on the 11th

    That would look totally benign, yet be the actual trigger to the event. No crypto needed!
    • Let's meet at 7:45 in front of the Arthur Anderson school on the 11th
      Actually, this is exactly the sort of obvious code-phrase that CARNIVORE is on the lookout for when it scans everyone's e-mail. And ECHELON is on the lookout for such phrases spoken aloud on the telephone.

      So if you keep making suspicious remarks like that it won't be long before the black vans arrive in the dead of night to drag you away, and your neighbors pretend to hear nothing when you scream!

      :)

  • What is scary about this U.S. government talk of not allowing secure encryption is that it is working so well. Even the intelligent, educated people who comment on Slashdot (Don't joke about this, it's the truth.) are being led completely away from the real issue.

    The real issue is that they are trying to get you to accept that you have no right to privacy.

    The really important matter is that the U.S. government is trying to get you to accept the principle that it can spy on you. They know they will lose the encryption battle.

    Do you ever have the right to privacy? If there is a single case in which you have the right to privacy, then you have the right to encryption, because you need it for that case.

    From the article, What should be the Response to Violence? [hevanet.com]:

    "The U.S. government has three separate, very large agencies that function as global secret police: The FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. The first two are authorized to kill other people. These agencies are secret in two senses: Their activities are hidden from the people of the U.S., even though the U.S. is a democracy. They also have secret budgets. These agencies function everywhere in the world, including inside the U.S."

    It has somehow been established that U.S. citizens will accept that they cannot be told about either the activities or the budget of the secret "national security" agencies. Clearly, if they did know, and if they had a chance to vote, most citizens of the U.S. would vote against many of the activities. However, U.S. citizens are not allowed to have enough information to make an informed decision about the secret agencies.

    • by Deskpoet (215561) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @12:24PM (#2368139) Homepage Journal
      Though I agree with everything you said, the fundamental problem goes a bit deeper than privacy.

      The full underlying cause of this is nationalism and the belief that the State is an almost divine entity that will protect you from all ills provided you play by its rules.

      History shows that this is a fool's bargain. Any state--and yes, flag-wavers, that includes the US--is *designed* to limit your freedoms for the "greater good". While this works for a great many people indoctrinated to accept the definitions the State provides for "freedom" and "democracy", it is not, nor has it ever been, a complete solution for people in the world, and *much* has been done in the name of the State--like much was done in the name of God before it--that is simply hateful and evil.

      Allegiance to the State, a belief that the State is all, that you should be proud to be part of the State, happened in Germany in the 1930s, and it appears to be happening here. Based on some of the troll posts here, you just have to substitute Arab for Jew, and you have the basic plank of the Nazi party flying in full colors.

      How does this relate to crypto? It doesn't really at all--that's the point. But, if we're really trying to make a connection, then there's the tenuous observation that crypto is math, and knows no allegiance to State, which has no allegiance to you, meaning that Crypto is like the State in that it is an abstract concept without any feeling or allegiance to anyone or anything. The major difference between Crypto and the State is that the State is established, has full access to social control mechanisms, and panders to people's senses of belonging while Crypto is simply math that individuals can use to keep pieces of themselves from the State and unto themselves.

      It is natural that the State--which *fully* seeks the totality of National Socialism, and now has the capacity to make _1984_ look like a Disneyland ride--would seek to abolish the one tool that can put an individual on equal footing with it. It's up to *us* to drop our allegiance to one abstract concept and rally our efforts around the other.

      I'll leave it up to you to decide which way the wind appears to be blowing.

  • by LazyDawg (519783) <lazydawg@@@hotmail...com> on Saturday September 29, 2001 @11:24AM (#2367958) Homepage
    We've had cryptography and steganography since back when messages were tattoed on the tops of soldiers head and run between camps. The public has been sending secret messages long before it was rendered legal for them to do it, and they will continue long after it is rendered illegal again.

    Language has always had two purposes: 1. To aid in communication with those you like, and 2. To hinder communication with those you don't. Otherwise, we would probobly all be speaking in the same tongue or dialect. Even if these laws are passed, sending secret messages will always happen, and crypto/stego are too great a tool to be just thrown away by the people.

    Use of GIF images to send secret messages is one obvious way to make your message invisible or even undetectable. Encrypting that message against any commercially available CD image would be even more useful. Any attempts to circumvent that encryption would result in extracting a CD image, and that's a DMCA violation. :)
  • by hacker (14635) <hacker@gnu-designs.com> on Saturday September 29, 2001 @11:45AM (#2368033)
    When I hear the argument that "...encryption can be used to hide terrorist communications..." and that we can't protect our citizens properly if we let these bad guys continue using unbreakable encryption, I have one thing to say...

    ...the United States military uses encryption every single day to save thousands of lives. How do you think these soldiers in the field talk to each other, relay coordinates, maintain anonymity in foreign lands to stay alive? That's right class, strong encryption!

    It's ok to implement backdoors in the publically available encryption, but oh, this little stuff we use over here in our military is classified, you can't see it, and we can't even tell you we use it.. But here's a 200 page document, all conveniently highlighted in black marker, that explains everything you need to know about it.

    All of these politicians and gubbermint officials supporting this type of intrusive "anal exploration" of our freedoms needs a brain exam.

  • From the article: "Once surveillance tools receive legitimization, who can guarantee that they'll always be used in enlightened ways by an administration in, oh, how about the year 2084?"

    This is a good point. I'm glad someone finally pays attention to what's going on. Each standalone piece of legislation eventually gets combined into something larger when newer legislation is added. Rarely if ever is any legislation removed. The end result is that the government can only increase its power, decreasing that of its people. We can talk all we want about passing laws, like encryption backdoors, national ID cards, etc. The problem is that most people understand how these laws affect their lives now, but they don't extrapolate and try to picture the future. Furthermore...

    From the article: "The competitive angle: If U.S. companies are forced to play by the these rules, rest assured there are foreign companies aplenty that will get around the Americans' export ban."

    ... You can't say that the encryption won't be cracked. Where there's a will, there's a way, and the backdoors will eventually be cracked. It's only a matter of time. Crackers (and foreign companies) will continue to use unencumbered encryption, while accessing our communications through the backdoors. The whole scheme sounds great from our law enforcement's point of view, but will actually make us much less secure. Imagine financial, legal and medical information getting into the wrong hands. (Besides, you don't honestly believe the government will use the same weak encryption as we will, do you?)

    To make a long story short, as with any technology and knowledge, encryption can be used for good or evil. Chances are, most everything is used mostly for good. We shouldn't punish our entire country because some jerk-off from Wastelandistan may have used encryption.

  • I have little doubt that virtually every commercial cryptographic scheme has been broken by the NSA & co. They are the world's largest employer of extremely brilliant mathematicians and computer scientists with access to perhaps the largest cache of supercomputers in the world.

    All this backdoor nonsense is simply a ploy to shorten the processing time on the supercomputers to crack it. Save a few billion dollars here and there in computation time.

    • You would be incorrect. Do the math. Enough computing power to break some algorithms and keys of certain sizes does not exist on the entire planet. Also, one-time pads are not breakable with any amount of computing power. Lastly, as many fine crypto minds now exist in academia and the comercial secrot as in NSA & co.
      • You would be incorrect. Do the math. Enough computing power to break some algorithms and keys of certain sizes does not exist on the entire planet.

        Only if you are brute-forcing the encryption, trying every possible key.

        Cryptanalysts just don't do that, at least not with encryption that has more than a trivial key length. As you rightly point out, it's just not viable.

        Instead, cryptanalysts look for more subtle flaws in the encryption algorithm and attempt to exploit them to reduce the key search space.

        For instance, there is some evidence that the NSA knew about a type of cryptographic attack called differential cryptanalysis, many years before it became widely known. Back in the late 1970's when DES was being proposed, the NSA stepped in and made some modifications to the algorithm, but did not tell anyone why they were making these changes. The general assumption back then was that the NSA was trying to make the algorithm weaker in some way, although nobody could put their finger on exactly why.

        Fast forward nearly 10 years to the late 80's and cryptographers working in the open discovered differential cryptanalysis. Imagine their shock when they discovered that the original proposed DES algorithm was wide-open to attack by differential cryptanalysis, but that the modifications that the NSA introduced made DES much more resistant to this type of attack!

        So, for getting on for 10 years, and possibly considerably longer, the NSA had knowledge of how to blow holes in all kinds of different cryptographic systems (differential cryptanalysis has made several encryption algorithms that were previously widely-used obsolete) that were assumed to be secure, even by public researchers in the field.

        One-time pad encyption may indeed by entirely secure, but the requirement to distribute completely random keys that are each at least as long as the message you are sending, and which you cannot use twice, is just not practical for most people.

        Thus we use public-key and block cipher systems that MAY be flawed in some way. Researchers have gone over all these algorithms with a very fine toothcomb and have so far found nothing wrong with most of them, but that does not mean that people working for the NSA/GCHQ/whoever have not found these flaws. All we know is that no-one has made any useful attacks public.

        With all due respect to the excellent cryptography researchers working in academia and the commercial world, I believe that the government communications agencies are still some way ahead of them, and that this may amount to several years ahead. This is simply because they are generally better-funded than other cryptographers, and that they have many more years of research to draw on - cryptography has only been studied extensively outside of government and the military since the late 1960's or early 70's.

        Whether that means NSA et al. have working attacks on well-known cryptographic systems in use today is anyone's guess. We simply don't know. Logically, it is thus not safe to assume that they don't.

  • Beyond the fact that a threatened life sentence isn't gonna stop a terrorist who's willing to blow him/herself into tiny pieces to get to you, consider this:

    So you have a backdoor to all encryption: in 2005, Osama Bin Laden II has managed to crack the back door -- but he doesn't tell anybody, because that would undercut public confidence in the cryptosystem. Instead what he does, is eavesdrop on 'secure' conversations, and mess up financial transactions for the next year or 3.... until people realize what's going on, and trash the back doors

    At that point, we're back were we started from -- except for the fact that we've had a few years of badly compromised commerce and communications.

    • So you have a backdoor to all encryption: in 2005, Osama Bin Laden II has managed to crack the back door -- but he doesn't tell anybody, because that would undercut public confidence in the cryptosystem.

      Sa-a-ay: you know C0de R3d III? Everybody says it was the Ch1nes3, but coulda it been *slam1c t*rr0rists? or the NS&?

      Just wonderin'...

  • Many of the guns=crypto arguments I am reading here have one fatal flaw:

    Most people understand they do not have the right to point a gun at a cop or a federal officer. So why would those same people think they have they right to use crypto when the feds have a need to know?

    Don't get the wrong idea. I don't like the idea of having my personal data searched without a search warent. But you need better logic than bastardizing the gun ownership argument.

  • "We are facing an enemy like we've never faced before, we can't see him, we can't bomb him. and[...]"

    He's right, and to make every computer-illeterate american feel safe, his administration pointed a "tangible" enemy on which they can "look like they can do something about it".

    Too bad they are forgetting that people can now use the net if they want to find out about stuff they don't understand fully. And besides, even if you're flipping burgers, you can understand that there's a shitload of material already available to build a safe encryption mechanism with what's on the net.

    Talk about shooting in any directions. I'd feel much safer knowing they've catched the leaders of all the known terrorists groups, and that people increase the immigration security/background check.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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