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Spooks vs boffins: MIT bods say they've created PRISM-proof encryption

Data's encrypted in your browser before it even gets to the server

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The cleverest clogs of MIT have squared up to the NSA after claiming to have developed a PRISM-proof encryption system.

Dubbed Mylar, the spook-bane allows devs to build web applications which are protected from attackers, even if they have access to the server that stores the software.

Its creators were upset that anyone who had access to a server, be they "an attacker, a curious administrator, or a government", were able to run riot through the data stored on there.

“You don’t notice any difference, but your data gets encrypted using your password inside your browser before it goes to the server,” said Raluca Popa, the MIT researcher who designed Mylar. “If the government asks the company for your data, the server doesn’t have the ability to give unencrypted data.”

Mylar sits atop the web service building tool Meteor and only decrypts data once it is viewed in trusted users' browsers.

According to an abstract of a paper on Mylar, which will be presented at the NSDI conference next week, Mylar allows the server to perform keyword searches of encrypted documents, even if the data is all encrypted using different keys.

Keys and data can also be shared securely, even if an "active adversary" is getting busy in the servers.

The Mylar system is very efficient, it creators claimed, requiring only a few lines of extra code.

The abstract said:

First, Mylar allows the server to perform keyword search over encrypted documents, even if the documents are encrypted with different keys. Second, Mylar allows users to share keys and encrypted data securely in the presence of an active adversary. Finally, Mylar ensures that client-side application code is authentic, even if the server is malicious. Results with a prototype of Mylar built on top of the Meteor framework are promising: porting 6 applications required changing just 36 lines of code on average, and the performance overheads are modest, amounting to a 17% throughput loss and a 50 ms latency increase for sending a message in a chat application.

Although El Reg wouldn't bet on the nerds of MIT in a straight fight against spooks, it's nice to see they are trying. So who do you think will win in this battle of the boffins? ®

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