Feeds

Crypto-guru slams 'NSA-proof' tech, says today's crypto is strong enough

Reminder: The maths is good, it's the implementation that sucks

Build a business case: developing custom apps

AusCERT History is filled with companies shamed by their shoddy cryptography implementations – even though the underlying maths is bang on.

In a presentation titled "Crypto Won't Save You" at the AusCERT conference on Australia's Gold Coast, respected cryptographer Peter Gutmann of the University of Auckland took security bods through a decade of software hacks and network breaches featuring a laundry list of the world's biggest brands.

Gutmann's point was to highlight how the weakest link in cryptography is typically in the implementation rather than the mathematics involved. He demonstrated that consumer devices from the Amazon Kindle to the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox consoles were hacked not because of weak cryptography, but due to poor deployment of security mechanisms, which were bypassed by attackers.

Many more systems have been broken due to poor implementations. The crypto used by lower-end ransomware to encrypt victims' files can be broken by security pros, allowing the documents to be rescued without having to pay the ransom.

"No matter how strong the crypto was, the attackers walked around it," the Cryptlib developer told delegates.

"Crypto is not any good to you when it can be so easily bypassed. The lesson is you need to secure every part of the system and not just throw crypto at one bit and assume that you'll be safe."

Peter Gutmann

Prof Peter Gutmann at AusCERT

Gutmann highlighted further crypto bypass gore by pointing to the use of weak keys in DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) by thousands of organisations including of Google, Paypal and Twitter.

While the US Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) warned companies in October 2012 to upgrade to stronger keys to avoid being popped, Gutmann said attackers took the easier route and bypassed the implementations.

"There were so many other ways to render DKIM ineffective that no one bothered attacking the crypto," he said.

The prevalence of bypasses was a boon for the likes of the US National Security Agency, according to the Kiwi boffin. He rehashed the NSA's Bullrun program, which attempts to insert backdoors into hardware and software. It's believed the agency was responsible for backdooring the Dual EC DRBG algorithm used in various security products, for instance.

Gutmann said the spy agency and its allies could be warded off with properly implemented cryptography, and that new "NSA-proof" protocols were not needed.

"We don’t need any new NSA-proof protocols. Any well-designed, appropriately-deployed protocol is NSA-proof," he said.

View Gutmann's 95-page slide deck here [PDF]. ®

Full disclosure: Darren Pauli travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of Dell

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA
Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Know what Ferguson city needs right now? It's not Anonymous doxing random people
U-turn on vow to identify killer cop after fingering wrong bloke
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
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.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
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.