Tag Archives: Encryption

Does Quantum Computing Mean the End of Encryption

If you believe all of the news reports, quantum computers are here and can break Quantum Computing Mean the End of Encryption all of the encryption that we have ever used.

A bit hyperbolic.

Dorothy Denning, a very well know security researcher who has written 4 books and over 200 articles while teaching at Purdue, Georgetown and the Naval Postgraduate School wrote a very readable article on the subject.

She explains what is and what is not real and why.  In English.

She makes a distinction between symetric key encryption like AES and public key encryption.  For AES,  there are reasonable solutions to the problem.

For public key encryption, one algorithm is based on the supposedly hard problem of factoring numbers.  So far the largest number that they have factored is 15 (4 bits).  Given that most public key encryption is 1,024 or 2,048 bits, they are not quite there. yet.

One study said that quantum computers would need to be 100,000 times faster and 100 times less error prone.

But they will get there.

However, the National Institute of Standards (NIST) is evaluating 69 new potential post quantum encryption algorithms.  They plan draft standard by 2024 if not sooner.

So as long as quantum computers don’t get 100,000 times faster and 100 times more reliable in the next 5 years or so, we are probably OK.

Read Dr. Denning’s article here.  Put your mind at ease.



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Security or Convenience – Manafort May Have Picked the Wrong Option

Paul Manafoft, President Trump’s former campaign manager, is in trouble with the Feds.  Again.

Federal prosecutors say that Manafort attempted to tamper with witnesses to make sure that their testimony coordinated with his.

How the feds found out is that they got a warrant for his iCloud account.  Whatsapp and Telegram messages backed up to iCloud are not encrypted.

Poof, his cover was blown.

Manafort has been charged with money laundering, tax evasion and failing to register as a foreign agent.  Now the feds may add witness tampering to that.

Since he is currently out on bond and possible witness tampering probably was not on the court’s approved list of things to do while you are out on bond, they could, possible, revoke his bond and send him to jail.  My guess is they will more likely use these new allegations to squeeze him some more.

So what should you do to avoid this situation?

Number one is don’t commit crimes.

Number two is if you are being prosecuted for possibly committing crimes, don’t commit even more crimes.

Number three is to remember that even if your end is secure, there is nothing to stop the recipients from giving you up.  The feds, for example, could say that they are going to charge the other person with a crime unless they cooperate.  Even if the charges are flimsy and don’t eventually hold up, they will still spend a lot of money and have their life turned upside down, so someone might decide to cooperate.

If you are creating records for yourself and you encrypt them, that makes it much harder for anyone to read them.  But you have to make sure that the software is well written and the keys are securely managed.  This is true whether you are planning a crime spree or just trying to protect your business.  Leaving the key in the locked door is not very secure. Happens to businesses all the time.  They think they are protecting their data by encrypting  it, but in reality, the keys are stored with the data. If you do it right, they (meaning the feds or hackers from China) might be able to get the data, but the data will still be encrypted.  Could they crack the encryption?  Maybe.  All that takes is time and money. Possibly a lot of both.  OR, they could hack your phone/computer and steal the encryption keys.

Bottom line – encryption is not a silver bullet;  even if you are not a crook.  It is hard to do right and easy to do wrong.

Information for this post came from Gizmodo.


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FBI Says Tech Industry Should Follow Financial Services in Saving Messages

FBI Director Christopher Wray suggested that the tech industry follow the model of the financial services industry.  Some of the big banks have created a messaging app with delete capability so to keep the regulators happy, they agreed to save a copy of each message for 7 years.

Lets apply that to the tech industry

Whatsapp currently serves up 55 billion messages plus 4.5 billion photos plus 1 billion videos a day.

iMessage serves up 40 billion messages a day.

Lets assume a message, with overhead is 1,000 bytes, a photo is 3 megabytes and a video is 20 megabytes AND lets ignore every other secure messaging platform.  The math is:

(95 billion x 1kB + 4.5 billion x 3mB + 1 billion x 20mB ) x 365 x 7

That equals 33,595,000 Billion bytes per day or

12,262,175,000 billion bytes per year or

85,835, 225,000 billion bytes in 7 years.

That would be 85,000,000,000,000,000,000 characters, if I did the math right.  Lets ignore compression for the moment since videos and photos don’t compress and they are the bulk of the disk space.

Assuming a 5 TB disk drive, that would only require 17,167, 045 disk drives to hold the data.

Double that if you would like just one backup copy.

That assumes zero growth during that time, which, as we know, growth is in the double digits per year.

That is a lot of disk drives for someone to buy.  And maintain.  And pay for the electric and people to keep them running.  Roughly the size and cost of the NSA’s Utah data center, which cost about $4 billion to build, estimates say and probably, a hundred million dollars a year to run.

Scale IS a problem here.  A big problem.

Lets say you scale that back and say that you only keep messages for a year.  Now you only need two and a half million disk drives, assuming zero growth.

If we assume that people don’t keep all their messages, someone else is going to have to and that will be VERY expensive.  Even if you build a back door into phones, if people delete their messages, that back door doesn’t help you.

I’m not saying there is no answer, but there is no simple or inexpensive or privacy protecting way.

And, of course, if you force Apple to build a back door into iMessage, some dude in Pakistan will build his own app that doesn’t have a backdoor.  Now you have to police every phone on the planet for a long list of apps that changes daily.  Again, possible, but not cheap or inexpensive.

NOTE: These numbers are only for examples.  They could be off by a factor of 10 in either direction – or more.

Information for this post came from The Washington Post.


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More Data is Better – Or Is It?

Talk to Google or Facebook and they will tell you that they never met a piece of information that they did not want to add to their databases.  More information means better profiles;  better profiles mean that they can charge more for ads.

But some Silicon Valley firms are rethinking that idea.

Silicon Valley startup Envoy, for example has made a decision to keep as little customer information as possible.  That way if the government asks them for the data, they can say they don’t not have it.

Some large tech firms are beginning to offer services that rely far less on collecting user data.

Even early stage startups are beginning to realize that between government demands for data and hackers, that holding more data is a liability rather than an asset.

Startups are beginning to invest scarce resources to reduce the amount of data that they collect, even if it slows short term growth

Even Marc Andreessen, the prominent venture capitalist and cofounder of Netscape, said “Engineers are not inherently anti-government, but they are becoming radicalized, because they believe that the FBI, in  particular, and the U.S. government, more broadly, wants to outlaw encryption”.

Andreessen says that startups are “particularly wary” of Burr-Feinstein, the proposed legislation that would force vendors to add back doors to their encryption software.

For some tech vendors, it is not possible to follow this data minimization strategy since they are dependent on selling that data to make money.  For other vendors, they need to have access in order to deliver their service – web based email is an example of this.

Other vendors – Apple’s iMessage, Whatsapp, Signal and others – have added end to end encryption where the vendors do not have the keys.  If the FBI comes to them, they can say that they do not have access to the data.

Whatever the outcome, the government has certainly changed the conversation in Silicon Valley and that will influence the design of systems for a long time.  We will have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Information for this post came from the Washington Post.

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Court Can Compel You To Unlock Your Phone – If It Is Locked With Your Fingerprint

Authorities in L.A. obtained a search warrant compelling the girlfriend of an alleged gang member to press her finger on an iPhone to unlock it because they wanted to see what was in it.

Whether this violates the 5th amendment or not is in dispute and this was an L.A. court – likely a district court.  This  certainly is not the Supremes, but the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that the police can search phones with a warrant and compel someone to provide their fingerprints, but that does not mean that you can join the two.  They have also ruled, in 2000, that a person cannot be compelled to divulge the combination to a safe.

The process of unlocking the phone may say something about whether this person had control of the phone and therefore has some implications regarding crimes that may be revealed based on looking in the phone, but if this phone belonged to her boyfriend, by unlocking it, she might be contributing to convicting herself.

Other legal experts say that giving the police the finger is different than compelling testimony, so maybe it does not violate the 5th amendment.  This is going to take a lot more time to sort out.

One of the interesting parts of this is that an iPhone will lock after 48 hours so that even with a finger press, the phone won’t unlock without a password.  If the person refused and went to court to argue the point and that process exceeded the 48 hour window, I am not sure what would have happened.  I also don’t know if you can make that window, say, 1 hour instead of 48 hours.

IF this is worrisome for you, then there is a simple solution – don’t use your fingerprint to unlock your phone.

In another unrelated case, a man in Philadelphia has been in jail on contempt charges for the last 7 months for refusing to decrypt two disk drives that the cops think contain child porn, but other than they think it does, it does not appear that they have any actual evidence that it does.

This is another case, like the Apple-FBI case, where the judge invoked the 1789 All Writs Act to compel the person to assist the government with unlocking the drives.  The drives are protected by Apple’s FileVault software, but that is really not relevant.  Encryption is actually the issue.

The question at hand is whether (a) a person can be compelled to divulge his password and (b) whether a judge can use the All Writs Act to try and compel him to do so.  Given that he is willing to go to jail for at least 7 months, he is a stubborn fella – or there is child porn and he knows that if he decrypts the drives he will be in real trouble.  This person has never been charged with a crime – before or now – and the case is being appealed.

Who knows when this will be resolved – either by the courts or Congress.

Information for this post came from the L.A. Times.  The Philadelphia case can be found on Ars Technica.

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Paris Police Report Shows No Evidence Of Use Of Encryption

Over the weekend the New York Times ran a piece on the report created by the French anti terrorism police on the Paris attacks.  The report indicates that there is no evidence of use of encrypted email, devices or messaging solutions.

In fact, they used phones that they activated just before the attack (burner phones) and phones taken from the victims.  Since the phones were only active for a few minutes, they didn’t care if someone was able to track them.

The Times decided that since there was no evidence of encrypted email, the attackers must have used encrypted email.  That logic escapes me.  The Times figures that encrypted emails must be invisible.

Now this does not mean that future attackers won’t use encryption, but if they do, at least the smart ones will not use software from countries that require back doors.

Perhaps we need to ban cell phones.  After all, the root of all these issues is people using cell phones.  If we get rid of cell phones, then the attackers will be forced to meet with each other – a much riskier proposition.

There is no simple answer to these problems even though politicians will attempt to create a simplistic solution.

What is likely is that if U.S. companies are forced to put back doors in their software, companies in other countries will avoid buying U.S. technology products, costing profits and jobs.

Information for this post came from Techdirt.

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