Feeds

Snowden lawyer PGP email 'crack' flap: What REALLY happened?

Decrypted message turns up on Cryptome, bafflement all round

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

The leak of a PGP-encrypted email between Ed Snowden's pet journalist Glenn Greenwald and a lawyer has created a bit of a fuss in crypto circles.

Jesselyn Radack, a national security and human rights brief, ‪said an encrypted email sent by her to Greenwald was this week leaked by persons unknown to Cryptome, the long-running online library of leaked documents.

Radack is one of the lawyers representing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, something that adds spice to the already heady mix of intrigue.

The content of the email is not particularly sensitive; it references Greenwald's McGill journalism award, and the upcoming Polk media event, neither of which is particularly secret.

Quite how the plaintext of a PGP-encrypted email ended up on a public website has, by contrast, become the focus of interest and speculation. Has someone cracked PGP, some wondered.

One theory, however, is that Radack ‪was tricked into adding a spurious public PGP key to her keyring and then accidentally sent her message not only to Greenwald but to an email address controlled by whoever has the corresponding private key for the mystery public key.

Then, it's claimed, she accidentally encrypted the email for some malicious third-party and sent it to them, allowing the miscreant to decrypt it and leak. It's possible a malware infection was able to help here.

"I have a copy of the full original email and it is encrypted to three keys. Two of them are correct and the third is a likely hostile party," said ‪Tor developer Jacob Applebaum, who has worked with Snowden's dossier dump, in the first of a series of Twitter updates about the leak. "‬The third key involved is for an email address that may be run by a hostile party, with a PGP key. It is not controlled by Glenn [Greenwald] or Jess [Radack].

"It appears that the person who leaked the PGP encrypted text took out the metadata about a third key, which explains the ability to decrypt," he added.

‪Applebaum‬ suggests that Cryptome is being manipulated as part of a disinformation campaign. "I think you are actively being played by someone to mess with everyone involved," he told the digital leak site.

Cryptome itself, however, is not altogether convinced about this scenario. It said it remained open to the possibility that some vulnerability involving PGP may somehow be in play, among other possibilities:

Cryptome views the Jacob Appelbaum's information in a message below an allegation similar to the original message. The message he provided could be tampered with as alleged of the original. PGP vulnerabilities are well known among comsec experts but not the public. Comsec experts often conceal vulnerabilities out of self-interest, instead provide misleading information – a practice widespread in most security industries.

A discussion on the issue, featuring various contrasting views as well as the leaked email, can be found here.

US security experts with a patriotic – generally pro-NSA – perspective (such as the th3j35t3r here), along with former NSA staffers (here), were delighted by the whole episode while others took a more neutral stance.

"If this leaked email on Cryptome were from or to me, I'd generate a new PGP key and wipe my computer, pronto," said Christopher Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in an update to his personal Twitter account. ®

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.