Feeds

BA jihadist relied on Jesus-era encryption

30 years for airline bomb plot

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
NASTY SSL 3.0 vuln to be revealed soon – sources (Update: It's POODLE)
So nasty no one's even whispering until patch is out
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
US government fines Intel's Wind River over crypto exports
New emphasis on encryption as a weapon?
To Russia With Love: Snowden's pole-dancer girlfriend is living with him in Moscow
While the NSA is tapping your PC, he's tapping ... nevermind
Forget passwords, let's use SELFIES, says Obama's cyber tsar
Michael Daniel wants to kill passwords dead
Slap for SnapChat web app in SNAP mishap: '200,000' snaps sapped
This is what happens if you hand your username and password to a 3rd-party
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
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?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.