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Security Encryption Networking

TCP/IP Might Have Been Secure From the Start If Not For the NSA 149

Posted by Soulskill
from the another-lash-for-the-whipping-boy dept.
chicksdaddy writes: "The pervasiveness of the NSA's spying operation has turned it into a kind of bugaboo — the monster lurking behind every locked networking closet and the invisible hand behind every flawed crypto implementation. Those inclined to don the tinfoil cap won't be reassured by Vint Cerf's offhand observation in a Google Hangout on Wednesday that, back in the mid 1970s, the world's favorite intelligence agency may have also stood in the way of stronger network layer security being a part of the original specification for TCP/IP. (Video with time code.) Researchers at the time were working on just such a lightweight cryptosystem. On Stanford's campus, Cerf noted that Whit Diffie and Martin Hellman had researched and published a paper that described the functioning of a public key cryptography system. But they didn't yet have the algorithms to make it practical. (Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman published the RSA algorithm in 1977). As it turns out, however, Cerf did have access to some really bleeding edge cryptographic technology back then that might have been used to implement strong, protocol-level security into the earliest specifications of TCP/IP. Why weren't they used? The crypto tools were part of a classified NSA project he was working on at Stanford in the mid 1970s to build a secure, classified Internet. 'At the time I couldn't share that with my friends,' Cerf said."
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TCP/IP Might Have Been Secure From the Start If Not For the NSA

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2014 @03:52PM (#46664237)

    National Insecurity Agency

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday April 04, 2014 @03:57PM (#46664303)

    It would be utterly obsolete by now and would just be a legacy function that would have to be supported for legacy apps and would be a security swiss cheese. TCP is better off just being a pure transport later protocol with modern crypto layered on top.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2014 @04:08PM (#46664453)

      Not to forget that 70's computers were very very slow and cryptography would have been to much a bottleneck to be widely used. Today some people still claim SSL makes their website slow.

      • SSL adds at least one extra network round trip, more if you aren't careful. Of course that makes your website slower. But that has little to do with CPU load.
      • by Bogtha (906264)

        Not sure if you meant to imply otherwise, but SSL certainly makes a website slower. No, on most devices, there's plenty of CPU available to do the actual encryption, so that's not usually a problem. But there's still the initial handshake to consider, and it still disables shared caching. And of course, there's a lot of devices that use HTTP that don't have desktop-class CPUs, so the CPU issue isn't as non-existent as you might assume.

    • This is a classic solved problem in computer science: chose an algorithm that you can support in the generation of machines you plan to deploy, even if it's slow in the lab.

      MIT specified an amazing fast processor for Project Athena, an entire 1 MIPS. Unheard of! Of course, it was perfectly normal when Athena rolled out. [Origin: the guys there explaining we could use the DEC 2100s we already had at York if we wanted to deploy Athena]

      --dave

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        This is a classic solved problem in computer science: chose an algorithm that you can support in the generation of machines you plan to deploy, even if it's slow in the lab.

        Yeah, and now computers are so fast, that the encryption is suspect.

        Think about it - GSM has been around for 20 years and its encryption has been hacked.for the past half-decade, if not more. And why? Because back then, the encryption was pretty much unbreakable with equipment of the day and implementable on hardware available at the ti

        • by davecb (6526)
          I would expect it to be updated, just like the updates to ssh that have added newer encryption schemes. We're talking IETF, not Telcos!
    • TCP is transport layer. IP is not. (at least by the OSI model and I think the TCP model though I'm a bit rustier on that one - Network layer is IP)

      There is no reason to imagine TCP/IP could not have included Session or higher level encryption protocols without really affecting the TCP or IP parts of the protocol stack. The design could well have been exactly as you suggest.
  • by Alan Shutko (5101) on Friday April 04, 2014 @03:59PM (#46664327) Homepage

    It's true, that had the NSA chosen to share that info, we could have had better security. On the other hand, the NSA were the ones that developed it, so if not for the NSA, it would not have existed to use.

    • by wiraffe (3604819)
      It's thus not only a misleading headline, the whole argument makes no sense. - What a nonsensical newspost.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      No, no, it was ME. I was the one who didn't invent the correct algorithms and share them with the inventors of the Internet. I didn't do it at all!
  • IPX (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2014 @04:02PM (#46664375)

    If TCP/IP had included crypto, we'd all be using IPX now days...

    The reason TCP/IP proliferated was because it was light-weight and easy to implement. Crypto would have killed that.

    • Re:IPX (Score:5, Funny)

      by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Friday April 04, 2014 @05:17PM (#46665023) Homepage

      Don't bring a basic grasp of history and networking into this. We're being mad at the NSA.

    • by Enry (630)

      This. I remember back in the early 90s when I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs and lots of data needed to be encrypted. It was fairly simple encryption by today's standards (DES?) but still required a separate encryption card in order to operate at sufficient speed. Adding that to every TCP/IP packet? It would have stopped Linux in its tracks.

    • If TCP/IP had included crypto, we'd all be using IPX now days...

      The reason TCP/IP proliferated was because it was light-weight and easy to implement. Crypto would have killed that.

      There would have been more resistance to adopting it, too.

      As it was, there was substantial resistance among people and institutions sited outside the US, because the Internet was a DARPA project, i.e. U.S. Military. Other countries, organizations within them, and even some people in the US, were concerned about things like what t

    • by Marillion (33728)
      That and if Novell had implemented a network ID registration entity. Many Novell installations used network ID 00:00:00:01 because that's what was in the manual. This made them unconnectable for all intents and purposes.
  • by mveloso (325617) on Friday April 04, 2014 @04:05PM (#46664407)

    If TCP/IP had encryption way back when, it never would have worked because it's too slow. Shit, stuff was so slow that people turned off checksumming. Imagine having to do something exciting, like actual encryption. It'd be worse than running a 300 baud modem.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Never mind the legal roadblocks. There was the whole 'munitions' thing for a long time over the good crypto...

      • by bsDaemon (87307)

        At the time the Internet was the (D)ARPANET and export to other countries wasn't really on the horizon anyway. I think had this gone into place, the headline would be "Internet may have been commercially adapted decades sooner, if not for built-in security mechanisms."

  • That's funny (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We used to use telnet, ftp and uucp, those weren't secure or encrypted.

    The internet used to be open and free, owned by no one.

    It's a stretch to think they wanted to do encryption from the start.

    • Different parts. The packet-switching technology was military in origin - they were seeking a new form of communication network that could continue to operate without downtime in the face of massive physical damage, like cities being nuked. Academia soon adopted the technology, and the early internet culture came from there.

      • by Vanders (110092)

        The packet-switching technology was military in origin - they were seeking a new form of communication network that could continue to operate without downtime in the face of massive physical damage, like cities being nuked. Academia soon adopted the technology, and the early internet culture came from there.

        No. Wrong. Stop perpetuating this myth. Please, go read Where Wizards Stay Up Late

        The vague concept of packet switching was developed simultaneously both by a British Post Office engineer (which is w

    • The Internet was NEVER owned by no one.

      It isn't a magic kingdom. It's hosted on servers and backbones that were *always* owned by someone(s). So the 'free as a bird' perspective is just blatant fantasy.

      The earliest Internet tech was developed for DARPA/USGOV. It also appeared around the same time in academic uses. Neither of these was 'free' nor 'uncontrolled'.

      It may have been not heavily policed in the early days, because nothing much of general public interest (or interest to the movers and shakers) was
  • by jcochran (309950) on Friday April 04, 2014 @04:15PM (#46664529)

    Rather misleading article and slant there. It implies that the NSA deliberately took action to make TCP/IP insecure. However, in reality, the NSA merely didn't contribute their classified work towards the specification of TCP/IP. And frankly, that's a good idea. The overhead of encryption at that time would have been too much. Additionally, cryptography only gets better with time, so whatever algorithm that would have been selected would have long since been obsolete. And due to backwards compatibility, would still have to be implemented. After all, things like routers and such are a tad more difficult to update than programs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hrdina (781504)

      Exactly, and I think this is what the AC was trying to say in one of the earlier responses.

      The headline seems as if it is trying to tie this story to all the recent reports of the agency actively weakening crypto algorithms.

      It would have been insane to allow classified algorithms to be published along with TCP/IP (unless of course they were willing to declassify).

      I didn't watch the video, but read TFA. There, Cerf is quoted to say:
      1. “If I had in my hands the kinds of cryptographic technology we hav

    • Yep, and likely was NSA research, which is a typical exploration into the subject... much like any research university.

      It's when the politicians and generals (aka customers) decide to take research out of R&D and into production is when people cry foul. ThinThread-TT (sure the agency doesn't use thinthread, but likely uses a variant of its design in today's system, regardless of what TT creators say) is a great example.

      Another great example is SE-Linux.

    • by RR (64484)

      Rather misleading article and slant there. It implies that the NSA deliberately took action to make TCP/IP insecure. However, in reality, the NSA merely didn't contribute their classified work towards the specification of TCP/IP.

      Yes, Slashdot is rather sad these days.

      But the NSA isn't just about withholding classified information. The NSA is about weakening encryption standards. [wikipedia.org] Vint Cerf said he would have used encryption if he had the opportunity to do it over again. The Internet community had such an opportunity, IPv6 with IPsec, and the NSA bungled it up. [infosecuri...gazine.com]

      IPsec doesn't involve the routers, because that would kill performance. IPsec is designed to handle different algorithms, so you don't need to support the same broken algorithm

  • I have been lately doing some reading about the networking abstraction layers and I do not see why TCP and IP could not have been created as single layer. Comments?

    The big stack of the OSI model sometimes makes me cringe also in general and I wonder if we are just wasting bandwidth with the various encapsulated headers.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There's at least a couple reasons.

      TCP incurs some overhead. Where you don't want that overhead, you can use UDP.
      Also, some applications do not require the "conversation" or "bidirectional stream" model that TCP provides. UDP fits the bill here.

    • Most things don't use the entire stack.
      TCP/IP needs to be seperate layers because you don't want to use TCP for everything.

      Everything on the internet has an IP address, so that is the universal internet layer. You can put TCP or UDP or any number of more obscure layers on top of that.

      Most applications squish the sesson,presentation,application layers into one, keeping them seperate is optional, there isn't a separate encapsulation header for each just a session flag to keep track the individual connection.
      U

      • TCP/IP uses the simplified 4-layer model, not the OSI full 7-layer.

        Though in some applications it has gotten silly. Many applications communicate over HTTP because it's the one protocol you can be confident of getting past a corporate network firewall and proxy, even if they have traffic like push IM messages or real-time media that HTTP wasn't designed and isn't suited for.

        • by Lehk228 (705449)
          communicating over HTTP means you can write your server application as a server side script instead of writing a full blown server.
    • by suutar (1860506)
      Because they also needed functionality that TCP didn't suit, like ICMP and UDP, and didn't want to duplicate all of the stuff in IP for each of them.
    • I do not see why TCP and IP could not have been created as single layer.

      That was one of the major divergences from other networking schemes of the time that gave TCP/IP an advantage.

      IP is a lower layer than TCP. It's about getting the packet from router to router, and is as deep into the packet that core routers have to look to do their jobs. Core routers are supposed to be "as dumb as rocks", putting as little effort as practical into forwarding each packet, in order to get as many of these "hot potatoe

  • Okay, that does it!

    I know you dudes-in-black are hiding flying cars powered by Mr. Fusion, and the pickled Roswell aliens.

    Hand 'em over! Hoffa too!

    (But take Lady Gaga back, please)

  • by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Friday April 04, 2014 @04:48PM (#46664851)
    grumble grumble
  • NSA.

    For everything that's wrong... blame them.

    It's not that our society is failing, that our voters are mentally obese and thus always pick the wrong option.

    Nope, it's the NSA. NSA did this to you. You're the victim, not the perpetrator.

    Keep saying it and maybe someday, you'll believe it.

  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Friday April 04, 2014 @05:27PM (#46665085)
    There were individuals and organizations back in the seventies and eighties that got in trouble with the US Government for writing and publishing software that used strong encryption. The problem was that the published code was visible from outside the US and ran afoul of ITAR regulation (citation: check the history of PGP). Incorporating strong encryption in TCP/IP would have made its use and adoption subject to US ITAR regulation.
    • by rs79 (71822)

      Like PGP?

      Pffft.

      Anyway, it's not too late:

      http://vimeo.com/18279777 [vimeo.com]

      (Skip the first 14 minutes of chair-shuffling)

      • by mmell (832646)
        What do you do about countries like the US that still limit the export of strong encryption as a military munition? How about countries which will not permit their citizens access to such encryption? And how do you get the assorted governments of the world to agree upon and implement one standard? The internet isn't some kind of nationless paradise where information gamboles on the green and frolics in the sun. More like the Wild West, with shark-wielding lasers, hookers and blackjack thrown in.
  • Bob Metcalf dubbed him "Darth Cerf".

    Some people do the right thing and damn the personal cost.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/edwar... [ted.com]

  • Whenever I hear anti-NSA rhetoric, I ask: imagine the same things being said about Alan Turing et al working to decode Germans' messages... Would Mr. Snowden receive the same respect and adoration, if he published the secrets of Bletchley Park [wikipedia.org] in 1943?

    How about the horrible "privacy invasion" that provided for intercepting of Zimmerman's telegram [wikipedia.org].

    Not excusing everything NSA is doing these days, but putting things in perspective...

    • In 1943 Mr. Snowden would have been quite lucky if he got a trial before he was executed. We were fighting for our lives back then. As to the rest, it is a matter of scale. In 1790 I could follow you around and publish your daily activities in the paper. Unless you hired 50% of the population to be reporters to follow the other 50% and then switched them off every other day, no one could possibly publish what everyone did in every country every day. In 1980 the CIA/NSA/KGB/MI5/MI6/Mossad/etc. could do a fai
      • by mi (197448)

        In 1943 Mr. Snowden would have been quite lucky if he got a trial before he was executed. We were fighting for our lives back then.

        UK and USSR — maybe. The US — not quite. But the fight is still on-going... The Pearl Harbor attack [wikipedia.org] killed fewer people, than 9/11 did...

        The various agencies aren't doing anything they didn't do in 1914, it is just the scale of it is beyond the wildest dreams of any old cold war spy. We really can spy on everyone all the time forever :(

        That is true. Technological ad

        • Bletchley Park is in the UK. No doubt he would have hung, just wondering if he would have had a public trial. My guess is not. And yes - non-state actors are a bitch because they don't have anything you can threaten. The USA attacking their "home" country is often a GOAL of theirs, not a fear.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Re Would Mr. Snowden receive the same respect and adoration
      Yes as US gov protections in place for just such legal events eg safe from US gov surveillance without a warrant.
      If you see the US Constitution protections been removed via color of law efforts you have the duty, right and responsibility to bring such facts to the US publics attention.
      The US political and legal system can then correct the legal issues.
      The US legal issues raised by Snowden are easy to understand in an open court by most legal p
      • by mi (197448)

        Yes as US gov protections in place for just such legal events eg safe from US gov surveillance without a warrant.

        Snowden's published revelations cover much more than (admittedly reprehensible) warrantless spying on US citizens. For example, he revealed NSA's capability to record all telephone traffic of a foreign country [techcrunch.com].

        Anyone alerting the Germans in 1943, that Enigma is compromised, would've been (justly) denounced as a traitor... What changed?

  • If NSA would have been involved in making TCP/IP would people have used it?

    There is a lot of hate being spewed at the NSA these days. Totally ridiculous title that needs to be changed by a Slashdot moderator.
  • by AdamWill (604569) on Friday April 04, 2014 @08:02PM (#46666197) Homepage

    Wow, it's always a tough competition, but this may win "Ridiculous Slashdot Headline Of The Week".

    Logic 101, folks. Let's recap that headline:

    "TCP/IP Might Have Been Secure From the Start If Not For the NSA"

    Now, what's the story here? One of TCP/IP's designers had access to some then-bleeding-edge crypto *that was part of an NSA project*, but couldn't include it in TCP/IP because it was secret.

    Now, can we support the idea that "if not for the NSA" that crypto could have gone into TCP/IP? No, because "if not for the NSA" that crypto *wouldn't have fucking existed at all*. The NSA wrote it. So the choices are "code written, but not available for use" or "code not written at all". Practical difference for the purposes of TCP/IP: zip.

  • Google claims the moral high ground of protecting privacy while at the same time maximizing profits by exploiting your web activity.

    Companies like Facebook mine all of your posts for the purpose of targeting advertising to get you, or your friends, to buy products and services - that you honestly do not need

    Companies are getting hacked left and right and your personal information and credit cards are getting stolen.
    All of this is going on and yet Slashdot posters continue to assail government agencies? A
  • It would be one thing to encrypt all traffic end-to-end with a Diffie-Hellman exchange per TCP connection. But it would be quite another thing to prevent active attacks from three-letter agencies. You'd need a way to establish and ensure trust as well. If they can't decrypt the connection itself, they can use an active attack to intercept it and decrypt it. Even if the target is using SSL with PFS, they could always national-security-letter a signed certificate out of a CA in their jurisdiction. It doesn't
  • The people who invented TCP/IP weren't even thinking about security. The network they imagined was one that went between a few buildings on the same campus. Nobody dreamed of the need for security at that point, any more than Alexander Graham Bell was thinking about voice security when he invented the telephone.

  • There seems to be more NSA shills here now, using faulty logic to defend NSA, such as crypto being too slow then, and that it is right to withheld crypto.

    The choice of using crypto on the net would have been nice to have back then, for stuff like protecting people, nations, businesses, even if the crypto was slow. So the job of NSA is obviously not to protect USA, but weaken it, and others. There were faster crypto back then, which of course also was weaker, but could have been strengthened by such methods

  • I was one of the leading team members at System Development Corporation (SDC) in the 1970's on various secure operating system and secure networking projects for various US and UK governmental bodies.

    Some of that work was classified, much was not.

    In late 1974 David Kaufman and I were working on network security, particularly on the then monolithic TCP (there was at that time no formalized underlying datagram IP layer.) Among other things we were designing and building a multi-level secure nework, with mult

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