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Russian trouble makers find Quicken backdoor

Makes it possible to remove password protection from Quicken files

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A Russian firm that provides password-recovery services says it has found a backdoor in the encryption mechanism that Quicken uses to secure password-protected files, a feature that makes millions of users of the personal finance program more vulnerable to government spooks or other highly determined snoops.

Elcomsoft, which made waves in 2001 after it circulated software that circumvented digital rights management protections in Adobe's eBooks, said the latest version of its Advanced Intuit Password Recovery product allows users to remove password protection from Quicken files.

Intuit said the company is investigating the claims and is prepared to modify password mechanisms in Quicken accordingly.

"We take all these kinds of claims related to information security very seriously," Intuit spokeswoman Jodi Reinman said.

According to a statement issued by Elcomsoft, Intuit since 2003 has secured password-protected Quicken files using "strong encryption" that for practical purposes makes brute-force attacks impossible. But Elcomsoft said the strong encryption is accompanied by a backdoor that lets Intuit unlock encrypted files using a 512-bit RSA key that until recently was known only to Intuit. The key enabled Intuit to deliver retrieval service for customers who could no longer remember their password.

"It is very unlikely that a casual hacker could have broken into Quicken's password protection regimen," Vladimir Katalov, Elcomsoft's CEO, said in a statement. "Elcomsoft, a respected leader in the crypto community, needed to use its advanced decryption technology to uncover Intuit's undocumented and well-hidden back door, and to successfully perform a factorization of their 512-bit RSA key."

Elcomsoft correctly points out that the existence of such a backdoor could put millions of users at risk of having their financial information snooped on if such a back door fell into the wrong hands. But they go on to speculate that "Perhaps Intuit included the Quicken backdoor to make it possible for the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS), FBI, CIA, or other law-enforcement and forensics organizations to use an "escrow key" to gain entry into password-protected Quicken files." That's just plain silly. Assuming the backdoor exists, the more plausible explanation is that Intuit installed it so the company could earn extra money retrieving passwords.

In 2001, Elcomsoft programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested at Def Con by federal authorities and charged with violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in connection with a talk he gave about hacking Adobe's eBooks. Sklyarov eventually was freed in exchange for agreeing to testify against his former employer. Elcomsoft was eventually acquitted on all counts. ®

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