Feeds

BA jihadist relied on Jesus-era encryption

30 years for airline bomb plot

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

An IT worker from British Airways jailed for 30 years for terrorism offences used encryption techniques that pre-date the birth of Jesus.

Rajib Karim, 31, from Newcastle, was found guilty of attempting to use his job at BA to plot a terrorist attack at the behest of Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular.

Sentencing him at Woolwich Crown Court last week, Justice Calvert-Smith described Karim as a "committed jihadist" who responded "enthusiastically" towards plans to smuggle a bomb onto a plane or damage BA's IT systems.

Justice Calvert-Smith praised police for being able to decipher incriminating documents under "five or more layers of protection", the Daily Telegraph reports.

However, claims by the prosecution that the coding and encryption systems were the most sophisticated ever seen in use were overstated – by more than 2,000 years.

Woolwich Crown Court was told that Bangladeshi Islamic activists who were in touch with Karim had rejected the use of common modern systems such as PGP or TrueCrypt in favour of a system which used Excel transposition tables, which they had invented themselves.

But the underlying code system they used predated Excel by two millennia. The single-letter substitution cipher they used was invented by the ancient Greeks and had been used and described by Julius Caesar in 55BC.

Karim, an IT specialist, had used PGP, but for storage only.

Despite urging by the Yemen-based al Qaida leader Anwar Al Anlaki, Karim also rejected the use of a sophisticated code program called "Mujhaddin Secrets", which implements all the AES candidate cyphers, "because 'kaffirs', or non-believers, know about it so it must be less secure".

The majority of the communications that formed the basis of the case against Karim, which claimed to warn of a possible terrorist plot in the making, were exchanged using the Excel spreadsheet technique, according to the prosecution.

Writer Duncan Campbell, who acted as an expert witness for the defence during the trial, said: "Tough communication interception laws [RIPA] were passed in the UK 10 years ago on the basis that they were needed to fight terrorism. Ludicrous articles were published then about the alleged sophistication of their methods.

"The case just dealt with shows where we have got to in the real world. The level of cryptography they used was not even up to the standards of cryptology and cryptography in the Middle Ages, although they made it look pretty using Excel." ®

Campbell will be writing for the Register on insights into terrorists' use of cryptography soon.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
'Speargun' program is fantasy, says cable operator
We just might notice if you cut our cables
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.