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Encryption Security

Export-level Encryption Proves Insufficient 517

Posted by michael
from the forty-bits-is-not-enough dept.
rossjudson writes: "The Independent is running an article about the shoe bomber terrorist. The interesting bit for Slashdot readers is at the bottom -- apparently the 40-bit encryption in the export version of Windows 2000 was cracked by a set of computers using a brute force method. So let's confront the question: Should the US prohibit the export of high-encryption software? Here is a case where the default values (40 bit) clearly helped recover valuable information from a system." There's another article in New Scientist focusing on the encryption issue.
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Export-level Encryption Proves Insufficient

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  • Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johnburton (21870) <johnb@jbmail.com> on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:19AM (#2861741) Homepage
    Yeah because prohibiting the export of this will prevent anyone evil from getting hold of it...
    • by Shanep (68243)
      Exactly, heaven forbid that guys who can get military weapons and nuclear materials, might actually be able to get a warez copy of a high-crypto W2K, OpenBSD or put effective use to a book like Applied Cryptography.

      It's like making gun ownership a crime to avoid criminals getting guns. Criminals will get them because they commit crimes. The only people without crypto/guns will be the people you don't have anything to worry about in the first place.
      • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gowen (141411)
        Thats a dreadful analogy. Criminals will get good encryption, not because they will breach US export regulations, but because the rest of the world is not as dumb as you seem to think. We understand crypto just as well as the US, and we can write our own. (CLUE: The recently adopted AES is called Rijndael, because it was invented in Belgium).
      • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bildstorm (129924)

        Lousy analogy.

        Primary purpose of cryptography is to hide information. It's not destructive by nature. It has great benefits to corporations and individuals alike.

        A gun's primary purpose is to inflict severe wounds. Most people will not reap the benefits of inflicting severe wounds.

        The big issue is not what sane people, whether lawful or unlawful, will do with these items. The big question is what will the insane do.

        Cryptography in the hands of the insane is highly unlikely to rob any more mothers of their children. Firearms, on the other hand, may well do so.

        Gun control is much like control of any weapon. It's not about those who are sane, but those who go crazy. And last I checked, in the "Me first, I'm an individual" society, you weren't too good at spotting the real crazies.

        • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

          by plsander (30907)

          Closer analogy than you think.

          Cryptography's purpose is to hide information. The user who generates and uses that information determines if the hidden information is used for good or evil.

          A gun's purpose is to fling a mass accuratly in a particular direction with great speed. The user of the gun picks the target, be that target for good or evil.
          Either device (crypto or firearm) in the hands of someone bent on evil can be used to further evil. Just as either device can be used by someone to do good.

    • Re:Yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ioldanach (88584)

      Yeah because prohibiting the export of this will prevent anyone evil from getting hold of it...



      I think you've got the problem backwards here... The article describes how the export version which was being used by al'Queda was able to be decrypted, revealing valuable information. This is important, because it gives the regulations that prevent strong encryption from being exported worked. Thus, the people backing those laws now have something concrete to point to and say "hey look, terrorists used encryption, but because it was U.S. export grade encryption, we got them anyways!" One more excuse for politians to not withdraw the regulation.

      • Hmm you are right.

        Amazingly a slashdot comment which made me suddenly stop and think about things I'd taken for granted in the past. You are right, in this case it *did* work. Doesn't invalidate my original point that it's really easily bypassed, but it looks like this did help to catch some stupid terrorists.
    • True (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Greyfox (87712) on Friday January 18, 2002 @12:36PM (#2862731) Homepage Journal
      When my company started a contract with a software shop in Romania for them to write software for us, corporate policy required all communications to be encrypted. We got PGP and GPG for the various servers, they bought PGP from the PGP International people and our keys were all 1024 bit keys. Nothing to it.

      What the crypto regulations really do is prevent most people in the USA from adopting it. None of the three-letter agencies want everyone encrypting their E-mail or network traffic by default. That simply wouldn't do -- if everyone did it, how would they know who actually has something to hide? So they make it a pain in the ass for software developers to incorporate it into their software and they make it a pain in the ass for most users (Who don't know to go to international sites where you don't have to fill out a form to download the software) to get it.

      The irony is that now they're bitching because the network is so insecure and how a cyber-attack could bring down public utilities and banks and things. Well they're just reaping what they've sown. The network would have tended to cryptographic authentication and tighter security except for the artificial and fundamentally useless restrictions the federal government has put in place.

  • by wfrp01 (82831) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:20AM (#2861749) Journal
    If you really want to make the world a safer place, please demand that everyone wear helmets all of the time.
  • by Bonker (243350) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:22AM (#2861759)
    Advanced Math Textbook +
    Computer +
    Low-level programming skills =

    High Grade Encryption... Anywhere in the world.
    • ( an FTP client + net connection ) |
      ( the ability to send an CD-ROM containing the source of GnuPG & Co + a compiler) |
      ( Crypto Textbook (with one-time-pads in it) + a pen + some paper (>= 2 sheets)) =

      High Grad Encryption ... Anywhere in the world.
      • | the ability to enter and leave the US.

        I have never had an airport security or customs official check my laptop for anything other than explosives, nor look at my CDR's labeled with things like "backups Oct 2001" to see whether they have "munitions" on them. Fortunately.
    • by OverCode@work (196386) <overcode@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:38AM (#2861874) Homepage
      Heh. I implemented Blowfish back in high school, using readily-available information. It didn't require any exceptional level of skill, just a basic knowledge of crypto and the ability to translate an algorithm into code.

      For those who don't know, Blowfish is a very strong cipher that supports up to 448-bit keys.
      Just for kicks, I changed 2 lines of the code and made an "exportable" version with 32-bit keys.

      Crypto export laws are a complete joke. The US does not have a monopoly on strong encryption; it's not as if we are supplying some scare resource to the rest of the world. If a 17 year old geek could implement strong encryption on a laptop in his bedroom, I am fairly certain a ring of terrorists could do the same.

      On the other hand, these laws do cause a considerable hassle for law-abiding organizations that wish to add security to their products. Therefore I believe that these laws are detrimental and should be repealed immediately.

      -John

      • > On the other hand, these laws do cause a considerable hassle for law-abiding organizations that wish to add security to their products. Therefore I believe that these laws are detrimental and should be repealed immediately.

        Citizens want to have secure communications; governments don't want citizens to have secure communications. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground.

        But yeah, the notion of stopping the proliferation of strong encryption by means of export restrictions is ludicrous. What were the feds thinking? (Or rather, why weren't they thinking?) Ordinarily I would suspect an ulterior motive, but I've never been able to divine one in this case.

        • The Diamond Age (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Tiroth (95112)

          Something that runs parallel to this is the world of Neil Stephenson's "The Diamond Age." It goes something like once there exists a secure and anonymous network for individuals to exhange information and transactions, the current world order collapses. Why? Because governments can no longer track the flow of money.
      • by haruharaharu (443975) on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:16AM (#2862140) Homepage

        I implemented Blowfish back in high school, using readily-available information

        The problem with that is that your implementation may be flawed - this accounts for the bulk of the cracked encryption. That's why it's best to use known good encryption.

        • by alteridem (46954) on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:33AM (#2862272) Homepage
          The problem with that is that your implementation may be flawed - this accounts for the bulk of the cracked encryption. That's why it's best to use known good encryption.

          That is probably why the export version of M$ Windows 2000 now ships with 128 bit encryption. The NSA knows that everything Microsoft does is flawed, but figures that it will lull the terrorists into a false sense of security...

    • Agreed. Several years ago, one of my countrys "popular science" magazines ran an article about "the new encryption", which basically was about the technology that PGP and all other uses.

      Looking at that article now today, and mind you it was not very technical, and it only described the math involved pretty sweeping, my biggest problem offhand from doing my own encryption would be generating big enough primes.

      That is where any "advanced math algorithms" book, or for that matter site comes in. They are not gonna put restrictions on exporting prime numbers, are they? :)

      It is stupid. A talented 15-year old with enough determination and time on his/her hands can hack something good enough together, if it wasn't already available out there. You think huge terrorist networks with tons of cash couldn't find someone to do it for them, if they needed it?

      Don't you think that broke terrorists have at least a few among them that would do it for free?

    • You don't even need a high level math book. Just grab a copy of Applied Cryptography and you can implement strong crypto. I'm 15 and I could implement many of the algorithms in the book: SAFER, DES, and FEAL, just to name a few. The only thing that export restrictions do is hurt US commerce.
  • by Hater's Leaving, The (322238) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:22AM (#2861764)
    40 bits is nothing, and has been for decades.
    That limit was /chosen/ to be crackable. And in my book, and in the minds of many others, that pretty much disqualifies it from even being called 'crypto'.

    THL.
  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sql*kitten (1359) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:23AM (#2861770)
    Should the US prohibit the export of high-encryption software?

    Sure, why not? It isn't as if there are any cryptographers [pgpi.org] in any other countries [www.ssh.fi] in the world, is it?

    Legislation is pointless, and even damaging in this case. The cryptography playing field is fairly level. That's not inherently a good or a bad thing; just as al-Queda can encrypt their files, they are equally prevented from intercepting sensitive information by the same technology. If legislation restricts crypto, we will find ourselves in a situation in which the FBI can't crack terrorist comms, yet terrorists can intercept commercial data. Airline security information, oilrig blueprints, whatever.
    • "If legislation restricts crypto, we will find ourselves in a situation in which the FBI can't crack terrorist comms, yet terrorists can intercept commercial data. Airline security information, oilrig blueprints, whatever."

      1.) We're not talking about restricting domestic encryption here. The issue is specifically about export restrictions.

      2.) What I see here is an instance where, because of our export restrictions, we WERE able to crack terrorist comms. The old argument of "They won't use handicapped software" doesn't seem to hold as much water as it used to.
      • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sql*kitten (1359) on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:00AM (#2862031)
        We're not talking about restricting domestic encryption here. The issue is specifically about export restrictions.

        You might have a point if US citizens never traveled on non-US airlines. That simply isn't true. Terrorism is a global problem.

        What I see here is an instance where, because of our export restrictions, we WERE able to crack terrorist comms. The old argument of "They won't use handicapped software" doesn't seem to hold as much water as it used to.

        It's very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that al-Queda are stupid. I am not committing sedition by saying they are in all likelihood just as smart as the law enforcers hunting them. With no technology, and (relatively) little money, massively outnumbered and outgunned, Osama and his people are still free. No-one knows where he as, and he is able to communicate with his organization at will.

        Let me give you an analogy. The minimum wage high-school dropout flipping hamburgers doesn't mean that the global fast-food corporation isn't run by Harvard MBAs. The Shoebomber was a pawn in this, nothing more.

        I have some familiarity with cryptography, because of my work, but it's not a life-or-death thing for me. You can bet every terrorist with a computer is googling for "crypto" right now.
      • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by joshsisk (161347)
        We're not talking about restricting domestic encryption here. The issue is specifically about export restrictions.

        When did he say the data intercepted would be domestic? Terrorists operate worldwide, you know.

        What I see here is an instance where, because of our export restrictions, we WERE able to crack terrorist comms. The old argument of "They won't use handicapped software" doesn't seem to hold as much water as it used to.

        How do you know it was because of our restrictions, as oppossed to simple lack of knowledge of the topic? Because strong encryption is available to anyway who really wants to get it... Especially if you have agents inside the US anyway.
  • Meaningless (Score:2, Redundant)

    by NiftyNews (537829)
    The laws are meaningless. I'm sure we can all think of dozens of ways to subvert them.

    For instance, I could just fly over the US, buy/borrow/steal a copy of whatever software I wanted, dupe the CD and label it "Backstreet Boy's Greatest Hits" for my carry-on CD case.
  • Only Outlaws Will have Strong Crypto.
    • And said outlaws will become heroes by doing their duty to distribute encryption from the rich few to the poor masses.
    • "Only Outlaws Will have Strong Crypto."

      1.) This is about whether or not to export strong crypto, nothing more. So you'll need to rephrase to specify whether you mean foreign or domestic.

      2.) What we have here is an example of an outlaw who DIDN'T have strong crypto. Now, did you actually read the article (or the post), or is this just your automatic response to anything that has "crypto" and "restrict" in the same paragraph?
  • by Lilkeeney (131454)
    I feel that the only good laws are ones that can be enforced to a reasonable degree. If we had no police officers that gave speeding tickets, then having speed limits would not do any good. I feel that higher level encryption can be had by anyone that wants it. They can just download it from anywhere. The only things that keeps people from illegally downloading it is a little message that says "If you don't live in the US, please download the suckier version." You don't have to be evil just to circumvent the system and get higher level encryption. Anyone can just click the button to download it. Therefore, I don't think this law should be in place as there is no way to enforce it.
  • Come on, how is it news that cryptography was broken? It's not hard! All it takes is time. The Distrubuted.net clients taught us that. Yes, it's bad that the cryptography was broken, but how can any Slashdot reader see this as anything more than the inevitable conclusion of using too weak a standard? Even 128-bit encryption can be cracked, given enough time and enough computers crunching on it!
    • by fizbin (2046) <martin&snowplow,org> on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:02AM (#2862054) Homepage
      The only real newsworthy bit I saw in it is that apparently the people who bought the laptop and then decrypted the disk are not govenrment operatives, but "just" people working for the Wall Street Journal. If anything, this says that moderate cryptography knowledge has become routine in corporate America.

      When the NSA can uncover my deepest secrets, that's one thing. When a potential employer can decrypt anything protected with twenty year old technology, I don't worry yet, but talk to me again in my mid-40s. I wonder when some of the early posts to alt.anonymous.* will become decipherable.

  • It is extremely easy for anyone with a computer and internet connection to get their hands on strong encryption. Just because one person chose to use weaker encryption and had his files broken by our government, it does NOT mean that he could not have found PGP on the internet and used that instead. Crypto export regulations are worthless and hurt US business (and even US Free Software).
    • "Just because one person chose to use weaker encryption and had his files broken by our government, it does NOT mean that he could not have found PGP on the internet and used that instead."

      That's like saying that you shouldn't use encryption at all because it will always be crackable with enough time.

      The point of this legislation is the same as the point of encryption to begin with. It's not designed to totally prevent someone else from getting and using this software (that would be impossible), it's desinged to make it more difficult to get, enough so that some people decide that it's not worth the effort. Some people like our shoe bomb suspect.
  • E4M (encryption for the masses) http://www.e4m.net/ [e4m.net] is now merged into SecurStar in Germany that offers 256-bit filesystem encryption for Windows. Not in the US.

    PGPdisk has been around for a long time.

    So restricting US export will do nothing.

    Users of *nix systems will probably have even more choices.

    Bonus: PGP-folder-hooks in mutt [spinnaker.de]
  • My answer is "no," the U.S. should not prevent the exportation of encryption (as if it were so difficult for someone to smuggle a CD out of the country). It's a silly, feel-good measure, as nobody who is going to use encryption for nefarious purposes will be even mildly troubled by it.

    However, the U.S. has traditionally prevented the exportation of encryption and only now permit it when it is wimpy enough to be easily breakable. So, is it really all that surprising that this happened?

  • No, no, no... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by trix_e (202696)
    This doesn't prove out the fact that we should restrict crypto export to 40 bits... What it proves is that this guy was an idiot for relying on it. We all know that restricting the export of anything like intellectual property is like trying to catch helium molecules with a screen door. Additionally this policy is so arrogant to assume that the US is the only source for this type of technology... OK, ignorant/arrogant, whatever...
  • If the default encryption made it easier to "recover valuable information form the system" then it is clearly not doing a good job, should not be used and to be replaced by a better version.

    I mean, afterall, where's the point in encrypting your stuff in the first place if it can be more or less trivially cracked?

    No, this isn't about terrorists, it's about an obviously inferiour/defective product.
  • I don't get this... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blitzrage (185758) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:29AM (#2861822) Homepage
    Why do people think that having a law regarding exporting software/code is going to stop ANYONE from using it? It's just like gun laws in Canada, the only people who are affected are the law abiding citizens who legally use their guns, or have them for decoration. If someone REALLY wants to use 128 bit encryption, they are going to. There is no way around that. Software is so easily obtainable that anyone who has access to a Windows platform can download it and install it. It really is a no brainer.

    Now for this guy who happened to have 40-bit encryption installed by default, he's just a moron then. He obviously didn't know that 40-bit was easily breakable, he didn't care, or didn't take the 10 seconds to download and enable 128 bit on his computer.

    I chalk it up to stupidy on his part for not simply looking for the stronger encryption (it's out there, and easily obtainable).

    Now for the conspiracy theorists: He wasn't ACTUALLY using 40-bit encryption, that's what they want you to think. He was using the full 128-bit encryption, but the NSA can easily crack that level now due to the computer power they have. They simply tell the media it's 40-bit just so that we don't come up and develop something even more powerful which would take them longer to decrypt.
    • Um, duh? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mblase (200735)
      Why do people think that having a law regarding exporting software/code is going to stop ANYONE from using it?

      And laws against theft don't stop determined shoplifters, and laws against copyright infringement don't stop determined Napster users, et cetera, et cetera. But that's not the point. The point is to make it (a) difficult and (b) punishable if someone does it, in order to keep it to a minimum.

      A better argument would be to point out that there are ways to circumvent the law without breaking it -- by simply creating the software/hardware in another country using the same mathematical principles, for instance. But for the love of Pete, people, stop using "laws can always be broken" as an argument against making laws.
      • Re:Um, duh? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BlueUnderwear (73957)
        But for the love of Pete, people, stop using "laws can always be broken" as an argument against making laws.

        The point here is that making a law against a minor offence (using crypto) in order to protect against a bigger offence (terrorism) is pointless, as the larger offence is:

        1. already against the law
        2. punishable by much higher terms than the minor offence
        Thus, somebody who is already determined to commit the larger offence wouldn't be bothered at all that in the process he is also committing one minor offence or two.

        The same article could be used to make the point that we should make a law that makes it mandatory that you take off your shoes when going to the loo... After all, the only way the attempted attentat was stopped was because Reid tried to light his shoes in the cabin, rather than in the toilet, and thus could be stopped by crew & fellow travellers.

    • or didn't take the 10 seconds to download and enable 128 bit on his computer

      10 seconds?! I have a half-megabit adsl link at home, and Windows 2000 service pack 2 (yeah, I run windows for games, sosueme) took a lot longer than 10 seconds to download ;-)

      Seriously though, my first thought on seeing the story was that 128bit encryption is not only included in service pack 2, it's mandatory, and if you uninstall the service pack, you don't downgrade your level of encryption.

      Really, this story is no different to all the ones about machines being rooted using exploits that have been patchable for ages. You can argue that a user shouldn't have to continually update and patch their system to stay safe, but they do. I shouldn't have to lock my house up when I leave it, but I do, because if I don't, I can't reasonably expect all my stuff to still be in it by the time I get back.

      Cheers,

      Tim
    • Why do people think that having a law regarding exporting software/code is going to stop ANYONE from using it?

      Exactly. Laws are made to deter the common citizen from doing wrong and to punish only those who are caught.

  • Shoe bomber = idiot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by isa-kuruption (317695) <<kuruption> <at> <kuruption.net>> on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:30AM (#2861828) Homepage
    He's obviously a complete idiot for only using 40-bit encryption in the first place. He's an idiot for trying to light the shoes with a match.

    Conclusion: We know the guy is an idiot... what would happen if a SMART person tried this?
    • by BLKMGK (34057)
      Why is he an idiot? He had C4 of some sort in the shoes and det cord that could've ignited it had he managed to get the match to light the cord. It WOULD have worked. Ask a military or demo person about it. The det cord would supposedly have burned hot enough to lite C4 but the downside is that det cord that can do that is HARD to light with a match. Ergo - he picked the right tool for the "job" but an observant flight attendant stopped him! Yeah, I'd question blowing one's self up but at least he was doing it in a way that would have the intended effect!

      As for the encryption - duh! READ the article, it was on a HD that didn't belong to him. The report was a debriefing of the guy written by a debriefer. He had NO control over what encryption was done on it - it could've been skywritten from an airplane for all the "control" he had over it. The mistake in this case was NOT his, it was some other moron. (sigh)


  • should the US prohibit the export of high-encryption software?


    Oh FFS!
    Must we go over this again!
    Its already been exported!
    Look

    -export-a-crypto-system-sig -RSA-3-lines-PERL

    #!/bin/perl -sp0777iX+d*lMLa^*lN%0]dsXx++lMlN/dsM0j]dsj
    $/=unpack('H*',$_);$_=`echo 16dio\U$k"SK$/SM$n\EsN0p[lN*1
    lK[d2%Sa2/d0$^Ixp"|dc`;s/\W//g;$_=pack('H*',/((. .) *)$/)

  • by GiorgioG (225675) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:31AM (#2861835) Homepage
    128-bit Encryption Becomes the Default in Windows 2000 Service Pack 2 (SP2) [microsoft.com]

    The Windows® 2000 operating system was the first Microsoft platform with 128-bit encryption to be shipped internationally after the United States government relaxed its export restrictions for strong encryption in early 2000. Microsoft has obtained the necessary approvals to ship Windows 2000 with strong encryption to all customers worldwide except U.S. embargoed destinations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:32AM (#2861846)
    In fact, we should just make terrorism illegal, then people would stop. Because criminals follow the law, right?

    Even though Osama was able to get a bunch of people into US flight schools, he surely wouldn't've been able to go to CompUSA, buy a copy of W2K off the shelf, and somehow get a 5 x 5 x 1/16" piece of plastic outside a country with roughly 10,000 miles of borders and 1500 international flights daily. Nope, no way that coulda happened.

    • somehow get a 5 x 5 x 1/16" piece of plastic outside a country

      Why bother?
      Just print the code in a book (or even use the 3-line RSA algoritham [cypherspace.org] on a bit of paper) and it was perfectly legal to export it from the US (freedom of the press).
      This is how the international PGP versions were legitematley exported, and then scanned in using OCR to get the code in an electronic format again.

      This was partly why the law was overturned. What is the point in banning the export of code in an electronic format, when it was perfectly legal (first amendment) to export in a writen format.

  • by f00zbll (526151) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:33AM (#2861850)
    As the new scientist article stated at the end, "there are other ways." If the government has learned anything from current events is High Tech is useless when dealing with people who only trust those they know. As as the article said, "not using strong encryption just makes it easier" for bad people to exploit businesses.

    Considering how much planning and communication had to take place for 9/11 to happen, we only have a video tape and a few files? Sounds like the low tech method works better for keeping things under raps. Is a computer isn't going to commit suicide if the FBI catches it (well I suppose you could boobie trap it). A terrorist on the otherhand can mislead, or commit suicide. The only thing weak encryption does is make businesses more vulnerable to government snooping and crackers. Plus the government can use things like a warrant to get access. Oh I forgot they hate having to ask judges for warrants and answering questions like "do you have sufficient proof or cause?"

  • Of course.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dfenstrate (202098)
    Export Level encryption proves insufficient.
    That's the point.

    Don't you think one of the reasons the government would want weak encryption in foriegn (and therefor, possibly adversarial) computers, so it's easier to break into them?

    Remember, for the most part, US laws protect US citizens, and are valid only within the confines of the United States. Since we don't really seem to care about how our government gathers information outside our country, It makes sense that the Government would want to make this easy, and one way is through export controls.

    Don't like it? You have other options.

    And note to Eurotrolls, who might take the chance to cry US-centric, or brute american, or whatever trash you usually spew, don't think for a second your government isn't engaged in every kind of spying it can.
    • And note to Eurotrolls, who might take the chance to cry US-centric, or brute american, or whatever trash you usually spew, don't think for a second your government isn't engaged in every kind of spying it can.

      Heh, I am that EuroTroll, and I'm well aware of the kind of thing my goverment might be up to.

      But that's not the point. The opportunity for US-bashing here is not "oh look, the US govt wants to break encryption" -- it's the ridiculous conceit that limiting export of the technology from the US would achieve anything at all.

      (1) It's not enforceable -- how do you stop absolutely anyone from downloading crypto code from a US server; or walking over the Canadian border with a CD; or getting on a plane from LAX to Saudi Arabia with a data CD in a Maria Carey jewel case?

      (2) Even if it was enforceable, to be useful it would need to be the case that only the USA was capable of creating crypto software. This is so patently not the case, that the US government has made an algorithm developed in Scandinavia its new standard (AES).
    • ./~ I'm a eurotroll, a eurotroll trolling in seine ./~

      Point is, your export laws doesn't stop us, or enyone, since we have our own encryption, developed at various places outside the US (Like .fi (ssh communications) or .se (KTH is doing some serious kerberos hacking). You USians does the same error all the time - you think you are the _only_one_ with high-tech. Sorry, but you are not...

      ./~ I'm a eurrotroll, trolling in seine, in main and the english channel, but no-where can I find a USian in there to catch, for that, I go to slashdot to troll. Hey, I'm a eurotroll! ./~
  • by Salsaman (141471) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:38AM (#2861879) Homepage
    What should be the US legal limit on encryption for export ?

    40 bit

    128 bit

    Cowboy Neal with a pen

  • Faulty analysis... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:42AM (#2861902)
    This is a serious case of faulty analysis, if anybody thinks this is evidence that crypto export restrictions ever were or could be effective. While it is true that forcing the default shipments of much software to 40-bit does make getting strong crypto a _conscious_ decision and require a small, but definite output of effort, to find and download a secure solution (in your country of choice), the people most likely to put forth this effort are those who need it.


    Who needs it? Well, businesses, anybody with information they want to keep private, anybody with information they don't want their bosses or employers to know, anybody who keeps secret information or documents that they don't want wife/children/family/parents to pry into, people with mistresses, and yes, perhaps some really bad people like terrorists.


    The fact that one already acknowledged to be EXTREMELY incompetent terrorist who failed to successfully ignite his shoe bomb (which was packed with high explosive) ALSO failed to properly obtain a high security add-on for his computer is evidence of exactly one thing: his incompetence. Not of the effectiveness of export restrictions. So while I agree that perhaps investigators obtained useful information because he was using weak encryption, and that is fortunate, export restrictions would not prevent a determined, modestly informed criminal or criminal organization from using real crypto (as opposed to 40 bit crippleware).


    You could argue that a really determined criminal could take down a plane too. That's probably true, but we're talking about levels of effort on different orders of magnitude here. One involves 5 minutes and a few clicks on a computer. The other involves serious tactical planning to commit a terrorist act. Conclusion: crypto export restrictions have never protected us from a competent criminal, and they still cause economic harm by restricting free trade of goods that support proper encryption by US companies, giving unfair advantage to foreign companies.

  • So banning 128bit encryption from export from the US will stop everyone getting hold of the AES standard Rjindael [slashdot.org] because US export regulations obviously cover Belgium.

    What a dum idea.

    Steve.
  • The drives contain more than 17,000 files. Though all of them are related to al-Qa'ida in some way, many are humdrum and dull. Others are not. The interesting files tend to be protected by sophisticated passwords or are encrypted, and the Journal is still working to decode them. One file, in particular, took five days to crack, using several computers. The reporters gained access to it on Sunday.

    It's amazing to me that these savvy WSJ reporters would admit to circumventing security measures in Windows 2000 in order to access these files! Don't they know that anything they say can and will be used against them in a court of flaws?

    I wonder if Junis' email is on either of these? Oh, wait, never mind, they aren't Commodore drives.
  • by Juju (1688) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:45AM (#2861919)
    So let me get this straight...

    Two journalist are in Afghanistan, one of their laptop is broken, so they deside to buy anther one.

    So far, so good, I would probably have tried to repair it and ask for replacement, but then, I am not in Afghanistan.

    They buy two computers, another laptop and a desktop. What did they buy the desktop for again?
    And they buy it from people who are looting buildings? I always thought journalist to have low ethics anyway...

    Instead of re-installing the PC, they decide to look at what is on it. Ok, I can understand that, but they must have spent quite some time looking at those files to determine that they were willing to spend five days to crack some of the encrypted files they found.

    In other words, two american journalist pick up a PC (they had no reason to buy), and they happen to find Terrorist secret files on it. Sounds too good to be true. I don't buy it, it's a setup.

    And now they use that to attest of the validity of the export restriction on encryption.

    If the BSA or RIIA is going after me because I have some illegal stuff on my hard disk, I can just claim that I got my PC second hand, and that all this stuff was left there by the terrorists who had the PC first...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's not forget , where the Taliban got their weapons.....
  • by eXtro (258933) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:48AM (#2861949) Homepage
    The reason why this guys messages were decrypted through brute force wasn't because of the 40 bit encryption, it was because he didn't understand the difference between good encryption and bad encryption. The encrypting file system under Windows 2000 will only provide protection against casual inspection. Your day to day things are pretty secure, mostly because nobody is interested enough in it to go to the expense of decrypting it. When you try to blow up an airliner people become a bit more interested in the data you've got stored on your computer.

    If this guy was informed about cryptography (not necessarily knowledgable, but informed - sort of like having the equivalent of a financial planner for cryptography) he would've used one of a number of bolt on products to really secure his computer. Some of these products are commercial, others are open source. He may have more difficulty getting (and if he's properly informed - less trust in) the higher grade commercial packages but it'd still be doable. Fly to California, go to Fry's and buy it. If he goes for the source code route its just about impossible to police. You can get it anywhere in the world where there's an internet connection or a mail system (CD ROM or a package of floppies through the mail).

    Saying that 40 bit encryption is an assistance to the CIA/FBI/NSA is only true if you rely on having stupid terrorists, in this case it was obviously true. Suppose they hired the equivalent of a director of IT though, who would come up with approved solutions. Life would become more difficult for the government. Whether the solutions that are proposed are legal or not doesn't matter. You're planning on blowing up aircraft, knocking down buildings and killing people. You won't even bat an eyelash at breaking encryption laws.

    What low grade encryption really helps with is gathering data against ordinary citizens such as the guy who was a bit less than honest about his tax return.

    Also, despite this low grade encryption the attack wasn't stopped. It's only after everybodies eyes were on this guy that his computer was examined and found to have low grade encryption.

    • Suppose they hired the equivalent of a director of IT though, who would come up with approved solutions.
      Terrorist: "Hello? Is that the Al-Qaida support helpline?"
      Recorded voice: "Please press 1 if your call is related to the time-limited explosives exchange program. Please press 2 if you are experiencing problems igniting your shoes. Or please hold to speak to a support terrorist."
      (time passes)
      Recorded voice: "Please hold.. your call is important to us, brother. We are currently transitioning our support strategy to Compaq Global Services."
      (time passes.. bad musak to the tune of "The Girl from Ipanema")
      BoFA (Bastard Operator from Afghanistan): "Hello, caller, you're through."
      T: "Hi, er.. yeah.. my laptop seems to be broken.. I can't decrypt my files!"
      BoFA: "Are you using the Standard Terrorist Operating Environment?"
      T: "Er.. no.. my cell leader says that this other routine we found on the internet is more secure."
      BoFA: "I'm afraid we only support the STOE with W2K SP2 128-bit EFS."
      T: "Is there anything you can do?"
      BoFA: "You can wipe the laptop and start again. We can do that for you, but we'll have to charge 10,000,000,000,000 afghanis (or US$100) to your cost code."
      T: "But it's got secret plans of the Pentagon on it!"
      BoFA: "I'm sorry, I can't help you. If every terrorist picks their favourite non-symmetric crypto, we can't be expected to know them all. We're trying to run an elite multinational terrorist organisation here."
      T: "Okay.. I'll try somewhere else. On another matter, can you help me with my Palm Pilot? I stuffed it with C4, and now it won't start properly."
      BoFA: "I'm afraid we only support Pocket PC."
      *click*
  • by mdahlman (306918) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:53AM (#2861979) Homepage
    I've just read 50 posts saying that limiting export strength encryption won't stop any non-US people from using higher encryption. I agree that this makes perfect sense. It's completely logical.

    But everyone seems to conveniently ignore the fact that this group DID rely on the export strength encryption that they had available. They DIDN'T use PGP or any one of the myriad of other options for better encryption. Perhaps the premise that a slashdot reader is familiar with other encryption techniques isn't equivalent to the premise that an Al-Qaida member will be familiar with other encryption techniques.

    Any reasonable and complete argument against limiting export strength encryption at least needs to address this fact. One could argue that it is an unusual case, that it won't be repeated, that you don't care if non-US folks have default access to better encryption, etc.

    But arguing that it will never stop anyone from using better techniques seems silly when presented with this case of a group using exactly the default abilities that they were given in Win2k.
    • and it probably happened just the same way as it would in any organisation... Pointy Bearded Boss tells computer-guy to 'make the computer secure' or something. Computer guy thinks "Bollocks to that, we're in the arse end of Afghanistan, who's going to come and get it?" ,uses the default available, and goes for a coffee. PBB gives him a slap on the back and everyone has a nice glowy feeling.

      Next thing, al-qaeda is owned by the l33t nsa haxors, and their credit card numbers are all over irc.

      bummer for the sysadmin.
  • by Kefaa (76147) on Friday January 18, 2002 @10:53AM (#2861983)
    "Should the US prohibit the export of high-encryption software? Here is a case where the default values (40 bit) clearly helped recover valuable information from a system."

    If the US could somehow ensure that we were the only ones who provided encryption, this may be an argument on national security bounds. However, we cannot.

    If anything, all of this talk about encryption has provided criminals with the knowledge that we can eventually break in. Even if that were not the case, better encryption is available in any of over a hundred countries, many with little concern for US regulations. I believe 128-bit encryption has been freely available for years, provided by companies outside the US.

    We need freely available encryption of every higher levels to stay ahead of our enemies (and some would argue our friends). Consider it only took five days to break the 40-bit encryption. How long would it take someone to brute force his or her way into a financial institution? Banks, trading firms; electronic merchants, etc. are and or should be constantly upgrading their security and encryption levels.

    Encryption should be viewed like a car. A car has very powerful, valuable, perhaps even essential uses. Unfortunately, people can use cars to rob, kidnap, and murder. Still, we allow and even encourage access to cars because the benefits far outweigh the problems that periodically occur.
  • We need to stop the export of strong encryption. While we are at it, we should probably go ahead and prevent foreigners from CREATING strong encryption. There is no reason for Operation Infinite Justice to target all those criminal foreign programmers, especially those evil terrorist scum behind GNUPG, those foreign OpenSSH programmers, the entire development staff of OpenBSD, and probably a good dozen other groups. Hell, as long as we are at it, we should probably bomb all of Ireland and India, I hear that they have quite a few proficient programmers who could produce this stuff as well. And what about that Schneier guy? His "Applied Cryptography" is probably the number one source of information about writing crypto apps as well, we should probably kill him so that he can stop showing people how easy it is to write crypto apps with rudimentary programming skills.

    Fuck it, why don't we just nuke EVERYONE else and start wearing helmets everywhere. Because, you know, we just need to be safe.
  • The drives contain more than 17,000 files. Though all of them are related to al-Qa'ida in some way, many are humdrum and dull. Others are not. The interesting files tend to be protected by sophisticated passwords or are encrypted, and the Journal is still working to decode them.

    Good thing our country is being saved by the WSJ. I wouldn't want those journalist clowns over at the FBI performing any kind of evidence gathering.
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:17AM (#2862149) Homepage Journal
    A couple of points to be noted:
    • Win2K uses DES, which is notoriously vulnerable to today's raw CPU power and dedicated, custom-built machines. [eff.org]
    • "Export-grade" US crypto is ridiculously vulnerable, and this has been known for years. People who take crypto seriously outside of the US have other sources [pgpi.org] of crypto [gnupg.org].

    Despite this public knowledge, Al Quaeda has been using weak (MS-supplied) crypto to protect sensitive information... that could be discovered within days. Therefore:
    • Al-Quaeda/Bin Laden operatives are not the crime geniuses the US government say they are. As a matter of fact, they appear as pretty incompetent to me.
    • The [CIA | NSA] should have intercepted that data before 9/11 -- or, at the very least, got those machines before the reporters did. They also appear as pretty incompetent to me, and I don't know if that's good news or not...

    Just my US$0.02...
  • I know this is definitely an "anti-slashdot opinion" take on the matter, but hear me out.

    Just to be clear, I don't really have views on eportation of encryption. In this case, however, I see a lot of responses that just repeat the party lines "encryption can be found outside the US", "the US doesn't have a monopoly", and "criminals will get encryption anyway"
    In this particular case these just aren't true. We got useful information BECAUSE the encryption used was weak. Ther's no way to calculate how many lives were potentially saved because of this situation, but as far as I'm concerned one life saved would be enough to justify exportation laws. It's not that strong encryption won't be found outside the US but that it's more difficult to get ahold of. If ridiculously strong encryption was available and packaged by default with operating systems, we would have had a much harder time getting access to those files. So, in this situation at least, the fact that strong encryption was not redily available did do some good.
  • We should be more worried about importing strong encryption right? Hell, Osama can go over to the two countries to the right and get better stuff.

    Considering India and Pakistan are making and programming the super computers of the world, he could be using 666299465164-Bit encryption right?

    Hell, he could be breaking our encryption. Right now he's reading your lame PGP encoded e-mails about that rash.

    Seriously though, there are two major points here: Terrorists want you to read the contents of their hard drives. They do the things they do for attention/a message/for fun/whatever. And two, they already used encryption of sorts... when they bombed the WTC the first time they spoke in code on the phone.

    Security through obscurity? No. Why bother encrypting ever letter and white space when you can change a few words and render the conversation useless to an outside listener.

    Cryptography is nothing new, and wasn't invented for the computer. It goes way back, and takes many forms. Nothing you can do about that.
  • My God, it seems like some of you posters do nothing but cut-and-paste posts from articles five years ago!

    1.) Export restrictions aren't about making it impossible to get high encryption (that in and of itself would be impossible), but to make it more difficult. Much like the point of encryption itself. Sure, you could get PGP and the like, but could you be bothered to go out of your way like that? Obviously at least one criminal didn't, or else you wouldn't be reading this.

    2.) No, the criminals won't automatically be the most heavily-encrypted amongst us. If you actually took two seconds to read the description of the article (if not the article itself), you'd see that this is about a very big isntance where a criminal DIDN'T use heavy encryption. Your argument officially doesn't hold as much water as it used to any more. Time to try something new.

    3.) This is about EXPORT restrictions. EXPORT! EXPORT! You know, where something LEAVES THE US!?!? Restricting what kind of crypto can be exported doesn't do a damned thing to the domestic market unless you're a seller trying to export your stuff or you're a foreign organization trying to buy the software on the open market. Restrictions on domestic crypto sale and use may or may not be an issue, but it doesn't have a damned thing to do with this article beyond sharing the words "crypto" and "export." If you read things more closely than your average IRC bot, you'd have noticed that.

    Go ahead, mod me down to -17 flamebait or troll or whatever. Just so long as you're spending your mod points on sending me down there instead of modding up some of the posts I've seen in here so far described as "interesting" and "insightful."
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:24AM (#2862212) Homepage

    There I was, foaming at the mouth and ready to launch into a "how can you be so stupid?" diatribe. How can you keep encryption out of the hands of Bad People by denying it to Good People? In general terms, writing laws aimed at criminals is futile, because the criminals (by definition!) won't care about the law and will use whatever technology or methods they want. Nobody would be stupid or lazy or overconfident enough to use the lame default encryption on an export system, surely?

    And then I read the article.

    The al-Qa'ida machine was indeed running 40 bit encryption. It's hard to credit, but it really does appear that they simply were too stupid or too lazy or overconfident to upgrade the default lame-o-crypt settings. It's astonishing, especially compared to the planning that they put into September 11th, but there it is.

    No, I don't think we should try and ban strong encryption. There are plenty of Good People who can make use of it (think Tibet), and any competent and determined Bad People can get it anyway. But these opponents just demonstrated clearly that while they were determined, they were not competent, and that changes my mind, just a litle.

    I can see an argument for encouraging developers (Microsoft, MacOS and yes, Linux hackers) to supply 40 bit security by default on all consumer systems. Aunt Jemima doesn't need strong encryption, you and I probably don't need it. I wouldn't want strong encryption to be limited, but honest to god, I'd be flattered if anyone ever thought it was worth breaking even 40 bits worth on anything that I produced. I want the option to upgrade to be there, but I feel no particular need to use it, and here's the kicker: the less we kick up a fuss about it - and just quietly download the strong stuff ourselves without demanding that Aunt Jemina have it by default - the better.

    I can't help but think that the more noise we make about the distinctions between low and high encryption, the more likely it is that even stupid, lazy, overconfident terrorists will perk up their ears and ask "Hey! Is this something we should be thinking about? Maybe we should send Achmed out to buy a copy of 'Security For Dummies'." Because they clearly are dummies, and I'm quite happy for them to stay that way, thanks all the same.

  • by Malc (1751)
    It took them a whole 5 days to crack the 40-bit Win2K encryption. It really makes one realise how stupid and short-sighted the DVD people were when they used 40-bits for DVD's CSS. Even without dodgy programming by Xing, the system would still have been brute-forced quite easily. Issues of whether they should have implemented CSS at all aside, they basically presented an unlocked house with a sign outside saying "burgle me!" BTW, what did the article mean by "super-computers" - Crays, or those Apples that couldn't be exported to France?
  • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate@gmaQUOTEil.com minus punct> on Friday January 18, 2002 @11:56AM (#2862430)
    128 bit- HaHa, silly mortal! You'll never unlock my secrets before the apocolypse comes!!!
    64 bit- You'll get my secrets when they're no longer of any use! (RC5 anyone?)
    56 bit- Never! Never will you have my secrets. If never means three weeks from now anyway.
    40 bit- You'll have to arm-wrestle me for access.
    32 bit- You'll have to thumbwrestle me for access.
    24 bit- You want access? You'll pry it from my cold, dead... Hey, give that back!!!
    8 bit- What's your favorite color?
    4 bit- Guess my shoe size
    1 bit- Want access?
    0 No
    1 Yes
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Friday January 18, 2002 @01:38PM (#2863163)
    There are a lot of arguments about how a reasonably motivated terrorist can just code their own strong crypto. But that kind of misses the point.

    I would imagine that most decryption is done in bulk, sifting through for the occasional terrorist tidbit. Even if some terrorists do use 128+ bit, it frees up a hell of a lot of resources if the majority of the load is still easily crackable. It also allows the authorities to montior more different sources so now they can add minor suspects rather than having to focus on the major ones.

    So, yes, for the most sophisticated criminals, export laws don't make a difference. For the total bulk work that the NSA etc. do, reducing the number of people with strong crypto makes their lives easier.

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