Feeds

Your encrypted files are 'exponentially easier' to crack, warn MIT boffins

Maths gurus tug rug from under modern crypto: 'You’d be surprised how quickly it takes'

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

Encryption systems may be a lot less secure than we thought, according to new research into the maths underpinning today's cryptography.

Boffins in the US and Ireland have managed to poke holes in modern information theory, an area of mathematics used to prove the strength of cryptographic systems before they are trusted and widely deployed.

As a result, the scientists claim it's easier to take encrypted files and deduce their original unencrypted contents than one would expect.

In other words, computers can find correlations between encrypted data and its unencrypted form far faster than previously thought, and eventually crack the lot. Code-breaking software needs to find just one reliable correlation before it can hit the jackpot.

Cracking an encrypted file will still be a hard slog, we're reassured, but just not quite as tough: an attacker could unlock a file far sooner than the many months or years of processing time previously estimated.

That's because information theory, built on work by Claude Shannon in 1948, assumes certain things about the entropy of digital information - simply put, how disordered the data is in a message. Analyses of modern cryptographic algorithms assume perfectly uniform sources of information, in which the mix of binary 1s and 0s is perfectly random and hopelessly unpredictable.

In reality, data is never that perfect: parts of files can be guessed and those bytes used as a foothold in cracking open the data by brute force.

“It’s still exponentially hard, but it’s exponentially easier than we thought,” said Ken Duffy, of the National University of Ireland (NUI), who co-wrote this latest research.

"Attackers often use graphics processors to distribute the problem. You’d be surprised at how quickly you can guess stuff.”

Duffy and three other scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the NUI presented their work, Brute force searching, the typical set and guesswork, at the International Symposium on Information Theory [PDF]. A follow-up paper, due to be unveiled this autumn at the Asilomar Conference on Signals and Systems, will take the research one step further: it will demonstrate that keyless door locks that work with wireless keycards may not be as secure as previously thought.

Matthieu Bloch, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the above research does not mean cryptographic systems in wide use today are fundamentally insecure, rather that they are less secure than we've all been led to believe.

"My guess is that it will show that some of them are slightly less secure than we had hoped, but usually in the process, we’ll also figure out a way of patching them," he said. "It’s essentially saying, ‘Hey, we have to be careful.’ But it also provides a methodology to go back and reanalyse all these things." ®

The next step in data security

More from The Register

next story
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
'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
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
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.
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.
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.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.