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Crypto Experts Blast Gov't Backdoors For Encryption 102

loid_void writes with a link to a New York Times report about some of the world's best-known cryptography experts, who have prepared a report which concludes that there is no viable technical solution which "would allow the American and British governments to gain "exceptional access" to encrypted communications without putting the world's most confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger." From the article: [T]he government’s plans could affect the technology used to lock financial institutions and medical data, and poke a hole in mobile devices and the countless other critical systems — including pipelines, nuclear facilities, the power grid — that are moving online rapidly. ... “The problems now are much worse than they were in 1997,” said Peter G. Neumann, a co-author of both the 1997 report and the new paper, who is a computer security pioneer at SRI International, the Silicon Valley research laboratory. “There are more vulnerabilities than ever, more ways to exploit them than ever, and now the government wants to dumb everything down further.” The authors include Neumann, Harold Abelson, Susan Landau, and Bruce Schneier.
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Crypto Experts Blast Gov't Backdoors For Encryption

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @11:50AM (#50063223)

    You cannot, under any circumstances, convince the government that having a backdoor into all those things is a bad thing.

    • Nor can you convince most people. They prefer to believe the FUD campaign.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @12:09PM (#50063353)

      You cannot, under any circumstances, convince the government that having a backdoor into all those things is a bad thing.

      But you can convince individuals that their privacy will not be protected, and you can convince companies that few will buy their products. The Clipper chip [wikipedia.org] did not fail because the government was convinced, but because of a backlash from consumers that didn't want it, and from companies that threatened to move their production overseas. The current proposals will fail for the exact same reasons.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The world has changed. Move the production where, Europe? Trade treaties will take care of that. Australia? Same thing. Russia? Sanctions. Asia? Treaties again. Governments are not like ordinary people, like you and me: if at first they don't succeed they bring out bigger and bigger weapons until they crush all the opposition. As with protests... Remember OWS? The gloves have come off. They don't have to hide anymore. Remember when being a journalist was almost an insurance policy? No more. They will use as

        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @03:16PM (#50064649)

          Move the production where, Europe? Trade treaties will take care of that.

          Nonsense. There is no way that European countries (other than Britain, of course) are going to force their citizens to use devices that the American government can monitor. If they try that, Marine Le Pen will be the next president of France.

          Asia? Treaties again.

          China is far less likely to agree to American backdoors than Europe is. It is not going to happen.

          • You could set up shop in Greece. I hear they will do anything for money and jobs.
          • by Altrag ( 195300 )

            The idea isn't to sell them to European (or Asian or whatever) countries. The idea is to produce overseas and sell locally. Which is already happening in most cases anyway so its mostly a matter of including the changes in the next round of fab blueprints (or whatever they use) that you fire off to the factories in China.

            Of course the next step by the govt would be an import ban on such devices.. but they'd have a hard time punching that through when the devices you're talking about are things like iPhone

        • Watch out they will be trying to contaminate your sacred bodily fluids. They will be putting fluorine in the tap water, the damn 'commies'. Even our tin foil hats wont be enough then.

      • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @02:47PM (#50064495)
        That was before oogie boogie terrists. Most of the plebes will fall in line now. Witness the scare up before july 4th to keep the fears alive.
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @12:39PM (#50063597) Homepage

      That's because backdoors give private information to governments at the cost of instilling justified fear in it's citizens.
      It's a win-win situation as far as they're concerned.

      • by CBravo ( 35450 )
        Not when the keys get found and their own security is breached beyond repair.
        • by sconeu ( 64226 )

          Come on, dude. You REALLY believe that the .gov would use backdoored encryption for itself?

          It will use the real stuff.

          • by Sique ( 173459 )
            Come on, dude. You REALLY believe that the .gov contract does not go to the cheapest bidder, the one who uses off-the-shelf components?

            Computing has an interesting problem right now: The most viable, the most powerful, the cheapest components are the ones available to consumers (or at least very closely related to them), because of the sheer amout of units shipped and the harsh competition in the market. Any we-don't-use-off-the-shelf-components attempt at computing right now is doomed to be late, extreme

            • Come on, dude. You REALLY believe that the .gov contract does not go to the cheapest bidder, the one who uses off-the-shelf components?

              Computing has an interesting problem right now: The most viable, the most powerful, the cheapest components are the ones available to consumers (or at least very closely related to them), because of the sheer amout of units shipped and the harsh competition in the market. Any we-don't-use-off-the-shelf-components attempt at computing right now is doomed to be late, extremely expensive, full of bugs, and at least two generations behind.

              Yes but if you've worked for the government nearly all your life as I have, you'll know that the bolded part is going to happen for any government-grown solution regardless of whether it's a piece of software or a tilt-rotor aircraft. My point being, if you're offering that result as something that is supposed to stimulate government agencies to avoid that approach, well, it usually doesn't.

              • by CBravo ( 35450 )
                There is not much use of strong encryption on govt. stuff if the rest of the economy and infra is down or compromised.
          • by Altrag ( 195300 )

            Given the flurry of government breaches over the past year or so, I'm not sure they're using either backdoored or real encryption to any great extent at the moment.

    • They don't want a back door into everything. Just whatever services the little people get to use.

    • by ne0n ( 884282 )
      If they ate their own damned dogfood you'd expect all intel to be declassified and data opened to public scrutiny. Failing that, the idiots espousing backdoored crypto are a bunch of whining hypocrites and should be shoved in a sack with a few tonnes of FISA transcripts and cannonballed into Victoria Falls.
    • Yes, you can. Tap the private communications of the government and their family/friends and put everything on the front page in the middle of an election and they will change their mind about security. If they are personally harmed by security gaps then they will want that fixed.
  • by GerbilSoft ( 761537 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @11:55AM (#50063251)
    The Clipper chip [wikipedia.org] was designed by the NSA and had a government-sponsored backdoor. Unsurprisingly, it failed.
    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @11:59AM (#50063279) Homepage

      But now they have more secret "national security" laws which can be used to force it without people knowing or having the choice to reject it.

      So you'd never know if they're demanding it from companies.

      • How can that work with GPL'd software: PGP etc.?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I don't understand the question. You are acting as though something being licensed under the GPL gives it some magical, physical barrier that prevents actions such as these.

          In order to make this work with GPL'd software, the government would simply say "Fuck the GPL, we can do whatever we want." And then they would do whatever they want.

          • by BranMan ( 29917 )

            GPL means open source. Means you, I, and Frank down the road can download and read the source. We can compile it ourselves from the source, to make sure we have what we expect. We can inspect the code to discover back doors (hiding a direct back-door in source is REALLY REALLY hard to do) - crypto experts in this or other countries can look through it to ascertain if it is secure or subject to attacks (theses have been based on this, so it is no idle task)

            In fact no one with any standing in the cryto com

        • Quite possibly by making GPL'd crypto illegal.
          • by Altrag ( 195300 )

            That would be.. a hard sell. OpenSSL and many other encryption technologies are open source, already exist, and are already used by many many people and companies (which are more important to the govt these days.)

            Even if you convinced the OpenSSL team to implement a back door.. its open. Someone would just remove the back door. And someone else would simply read the code to find the back door and use it nefariously. So they'd not only have to figure out how to ban or enforce restrictions on new software

    • Discussing this as a "backdoor" conflates this with the usual hidden backdoor which is a bad thing. Putting in a backdoor that is freely accessible and leaves no trace of its accession is ill advised. But I fail to see why there are no technological means to secure keys for multiple parties. you can even have crypto so multiple parties must agree so for example like my safe deposit box the bank and I both have to agree that I am me.

      Now that's a different question of whether
      1) I might encrypt the data on

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        Oh, sure, there's ways to require multiple keys. I would be surprised, though, if they seriously considered a plan that involved more than 2 keys (two keys is approximately equivalent to getting a warrant - keyholder 1 wants to do it and keyholder 2 says okay).

        However, at a purely technical level, there's going to be something that does the decryption, and it takes the keys. There is no way to guarantee that it cannot be hacked to either work without the keys or leak the keys when they're used, and if eithe

      • by Asgard ( 60200 ) *

        Your safe deposit box is vulnerable to one person with a good drill.

        Any system that hobbles wide-spread encryption tools with a backdoor key will eventually be subverted by loss / discovery of the key(s), rendering the entire system worse then useless. Multiple keys is also difficult as the NSA/FBI is going to regularly use this facility, so the keys have to be online / available. Not so much the 'break glass in case of fire' but more of 'press button to open door'.

        Keys that subvert an entire countries in

        • by Altrag ( 195300 )

          My safe deposit box (well, if I had one..) is most certainly not vulnerable to one person with a good drill.

          Its vulnerable to one person with a good drill, who can bypass bank security, can get into the cage, and drill the box out all without anyone noticing (and/or faster than anyone can respond.)

          Your average internet-enabled computer is more along the lines of the safe sitting in the middle of nowhere where nobody can hear the drill, nobody is likely to respond, and no other security measures are in place

      • How to do this: run all communications through a government run server at the ISP, where everything is decoded then re-encoded and sent on its way. It gives the gov access, handles the key exchange issues, and there is no way around you other than setting up your own network.
      • One of the big problems with government holding all these keys is the potential for them being lost or stolen. - Stolen by hackers or physically stolen by criminals or by corrupt employees. ~ The worst case scenario though is a large scale theft by a foreign government or terrorist group, which then uses the keys for large scale cyber attacks, for large scale theft from bank accounts and savings, for blackmail and political manipulation... Imagine a *Snowden* working in the NSA for a political enemy like No

    • That was before the terrorists won their war against us!

  • Yes... how many times must it be said? Ignorance is strength!

    • And "War is Peace"? Check. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      "Freedom is Slavery": working on it.

    • No sir, perhaps it is bliss but certainly not strength.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Hey, congratulations, today you're one of today's lucky 10,000!

        The "ignorance is strength" quote comes from the book 1984 [wikipedia.org] by George Orwell. It is a brilliant and very readable work of fiction that depicts a future in which the trends of corruption in government have run unchecked. Many elements of it have proven to be quite prophetic of the modern day, making it a very relevant warning of things to come.

        Read it. You will enjoy it and be smarter for it too.

  • Experts? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hyperar ( 3992287 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @12:00PM (#50063297)
    Who doesn't know that backdoors are there for everyone who finds them and not just those who put it there?
    • All the governments requesting it?

      That seems obvious...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Who doesn't know that backdoors are there for everyone who finds them and not just those who put it there?

      But the government can make a law against using it. That should be enough to stop the bad guys.

    • fillerfillerfillerfillerticktockticktocktick

    • Re:Experts? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ancientt ( 569920 ) <ancientt@yahoo.com> on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @05:52PM (#50065481) Homepage Journal

      I can't believe I'm going to contribute to this side of the discussion. "Loathe" is the mildest word I can think of for how I feel about a government accessible decryption system, but I'm going to explain why it's not infeasible to maintain security and have government access, unlike so many posters seem to assume.

      Lets take cell phones as a starting example. The encryption of my phone isn't done with the password I put into the phone when I reboot it, the encryption is done with a randomly generated key which my password decrypts. There is no reason the same key that is actually decrypting the phone couldn't be encrypted with a phone manufacturer password. That government mandated password would encrypt the real decryption key just like my password does, but the government password wouldn't change when I change the password I'm using.

      Note the government password isn't the same for multiple phones, it's unique to each phone. The government password is a randomly generated complex string of numbers, letters and symbols and it's not stored on the phone.

      The government password for my phone is created at OS installation time and then the phone manufacturer encrypts it with the public key provided by the government. Those encrypted password media are sent to the companies selling the phones and those companies keep that media physically secured.

      The government must subpoena the key for a specific phone in order to decrypt its contents.

      The government password is now protected by:
      A) A PKI private key stored by a government agency
      B) Physical security at a non-governmental agency
      C) The somewhat abused but best available legal processes of our government

      Encrypted computer drives work the same. The assumption in both scenarios is that people fall into one of these groups:
      A) don't know it is there
      B) use the system their device came with
      C) don't understand how to change the system

      That covers 99.999% of people, probably even 99.99% of criminals. I may repartition my drive and install varying operating systems, and I may install a different OS on my phone, but normal people don't. Even drug dealers and terrorists are unlikely to do that when there are far easier ways to avoid incrimination. The fact is we could have such a "backdoor" already in play and we wouldn't necessarily know about it. I'm geekier than most by far, and I don't recompile the kernel on my boot partition to make sure it matches the one that is actually there. Granted, I do tend to wipe drives and start fresh, but if Redhat and Canonical are compromised, the NSA is good enough at their jobs, that I'll probably never notice. Do you know for sure the signature of your running kernel matches the one that you could compile for yourself?

      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        Its not that we don't trust the technology, its that we don't trust the people implementing and operating the technology.

        They don't have our best interests in mind, and are far too often either too incompetent or too cheap to properly implement the necessary measures even if they do have good intentions. And even if they manage to pass that test, their replacements in 4 years may not be so noble.

        And that's the government. Private companies don't even have to pay lip service to our best interests. I mean

      • by delt0r ( 999393 )
        [Big Teleco] is force to apologize today after 10 million "backdoor" passwords where potentially leaked after someone lost a laptop at starbucks. Such laptop are not suppose to contain sensitive data, but the developer was late on a deadline and needed to work from home. Access is restricted due to security protocols even from a VPN, the unnamed employee made a copy of a subset of the database for testing reasons. It is not clear why the said employee did not password protect his laptop.

        It really doesn
        • A spokesperson for [Big Telco] said that even though they broke the law law pertaining to maintaining government security by putting the keys into network connected system, that no phones could actually be compromised because every piece of data [Big Telco] stores is useless without the corresponding PKI private keys secured by the [Three Letter Government Agency]. The spokesperson went on to say that replacement keys had already been automatically pushed to every online phone anyway as an extra security pr

          • by delt0r ( 999393 )
            I am very familiar with PKI. But your clearly not familiar with how large companies do things, or even what a BACKDOOR is. If such a event happened, you bet your arse all the keys will be on the same laptop. How else will the said dev be able to test.

            Also Nobody has proposed some 2 key system. One where i can use it with my private key, and the government with a 2nd private key. If its the same key, then no that is not PKI, because i just lost the ability to revoke and renew a key without 3rd party inter
            • But your clearly not familiar with how large companies do things, or even what a BACKDOOR is.

              I'm familiar with both.

              Also Nobody has proposed some 2 key system.

              You're absolutely right. Even I'm not proposing it. I'm simply outlining how secure second party access can be managed. You and I both know that politicians don't want to go through a secure process, or have only limited access controlled by subpoenas.

              If its the same key, then no that is not PKI, because i just lost the ability to revoke and renew a

  • Master key (Score:5, Insightful)

    by comet63 ( 1256400 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @12:04PM (#50063321)
    Who would buy a lock from a company that made a master key that was good in all of their locks? Of course, they would promise to only release that key to authorized people. However, it is certain that eventually it will get into criminal hands. At that point, there is lots of money to be made from selling the key. Of course, lock companies could make lots of money off this proposal, but not the one who made the master key. The government might as well give up on a web based economy and go back to paper banking if they start giving out keys to all of the transactions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        True, but not for serious physical security. Combination locks in general are not high-security products, and Master locks usually have a number printed on the back that a lock smith can use to just look up the combination, simple as that. It's a fine solution for a locker room. (Heck, most keyed Master locks have a number printed on them that a locksmith can use to make a key.)

        So, sure people still buy them, but physical security experts know the deal, and use something else where it matters. Computer se

    • Re:Master key (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @12:32PM (#50063531) Homepage

      Who would buy a lock from a company that made a master key that was good in all of their locks?

      It's probably not the best example. I would hire a locksmith knowing full well that they could pick the lock that they're installing. That doesn't bother me. However, that's because I'm resigned to the idea that locks only keep out casual thieves, and that any lock I'm likely to put on my door can be picked. I'm not inclined to say the same sort of thing about my encryption.

      • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

        Further, encryption protects information that is useful online. Online theft is much faster, easier to perform in bulk, and harder to trace (due to... *gasp*... encryption and other privacy mechanisms).

        And generally it has higher reward with less risk. You likely won't get shot for decrypting someone's online banking communication... breaking into a home, different story.

      • by Sique ( 173459 )
        And with locks, you have a layered security. You can have the lock of the front door designed by someone different from the designer of your vault. Thus even if your locksmith turns bad onto you, he might get into your front door, but not into your vault, and vice verse the vault designer would not make it through your front door to even get to your vault.
    • Re:Master key (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BBCWatcher ( 900486 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @12:39PM (#50063601)
      Everybody who buys suitcases. https://www.tsa.gov/traveler-i... [tsa.gov]
      • There's a reason you don't put valuables in your check-in luggage.

        You don't either, do you?

        • by jonwil ( 467024 )

          Or if you are in a situation where doing so is possible you buy/travel with a starter pistol or something else legally classified as a "firearm" by the TSA and can then legally lock your case with a big fat non-TSA lock.

          Plenty of people who aren't gun people who use this "trick" to protect expensive camera gear, tech or whatever else.

    • Re:Master key (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mlts ( 1038732 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @01:14PM (#50063875)

      Cryptography and physical security are often similar, but in other areas, they differ. Encryption algorithms are either extremely secure, or not worth the time in using them because every few years, CPU power doubles to attack them.

      Plus, with physical security, there is "good enough". I use an el cheapo Master warded lock on a chicken coop door... because it is nuisance protection. Same reason I use a six pin American lock on the gate. If it resists bumping or quick attack, good enough. Even with high security locks, their main function is mainly to work as a "seal", to show that if there is a break-in, there is physical evidence to show it is the case. A kicked in door, insurance will pay a claim. A picked lock? The claim almost certainly will be denied.

      Encryption isn't like that. Either it keeps everyone out, or it keeps nobody out.

    • You realize you can download software (used to be books) which lists the key bittings for blind codes for basically every manufacturer, except the ones that require you to mail in an ID card issued with the lock (and those are expensive)? This blind code is usually printed somewhere easily accessible.

      Right?

      Physical security is generally a joke. I place more stock in cryptography properly implemented than any pin tumbler, wafer tumbler, disc, or combination lock (safe or otherwise). Hands down. (That said, m

  • In 1994 the NSA proposed a "Clipper Chip" which would "escrow" encryption keys for their inspection.

    When Phrack republished the NSA Employee Security Manual [stanford.edu] to demonstrate how porous NSA was for its own security, it backed off.

    This is just the same old crap with Edward Snowden or the OPM caper as a counter-example, rather than Phrack.

  • the government can get a backdoor built in to encryption then criminals will find it and exploit it, and besides that how can consumers be assured that the government employees accessing your encrypted data isn't corrupt too and going to exploit it too
  • Adding a backdoor that is secure is very easy to implement. The government just needs to publish a public key. You then encrypt your private key using that public key and include it with whatever you encrypted. This would be much like the lock box on a house that holds the front-door key that only real estate agents showing the house are supposed to be able to access. And there's no reason it would be limited to just one. Opening a connection to a server in Turkey? Better include lock boxes for both y

    • The problem assuming the government can keep your its key safe, (Big assumption) is that the government has published its public key. While I can reasonably assume no one is willing to spend billions of dollars working out my private key from my public key I am happy to assume it is safe, however hacking the governments public key is a very rewarding exercise and I am in no doubt that there are organizations out there that are willing to invest the resources to do it.

      • Why bother trying to crack the key? Much easier to find somebody with access to it and coerce that person. Credible threats to kidnap somebody's entire family and rape and torture them to death over a long period of time can be great motivation. Just make it clear that reporting this threat to the authorities will trigger the same thing. If the first person doesn't deliver, the second will find the threat a lot more believable.

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      Adding a backdoor that is secure is very easy to implement. The government just needs to publish a public key. You then encrypt your private key using that public key and include it with whatever you encrypted. This would be much like the lock box on a house that holds the front-door key that only real estate agents showing the house are supposed to be able to access. And there's no reason it would be limited to just one. Opening a connection to a server in Turkey? Better include lock boxes for both your ow

  • MR. POTATO HEAD! Backdoors are not secrets!"
  • If one ways to damage from the two groups: terrorists and criminals having secure encryption or governments having a backdoor to all encryption, hands down far more damage is done to civil rights and liberty by governments worldwide. I'd rather find other ways to curtail terrorism and crime than let governments have tools for oppression of civil rights and liberties.

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