11 reasons encryption is (almost) dead

Massive leaps in computing power, hidden layers, hardware backdoors -- encrypting sensitive data from prying eyes is more precarious than ever

By Peter Wayner, InfoWorld |  Security, encryption

Some of the most forward-thinking companies release a steady stream of fixes that never seems to end, and they should be commended. But the relentless surge of security patches suggests there won't be an end anytime soon. By the time you've finished reading this, there are probably two new patches for you to install.

Any of these holes could compromise your encryption. It could patch the file and turn the algorithm into mush. Or it could leak the key through some other path. There's no end to the malice that can be caused by a backdoor.

Encryption's weak link No. 9: Bad random-number generatorsMost of the hype around encryption focuses on the strength of the encryption algorithm, but this usually blips over the fact that the key-selection algorithm is just as important. Your encryption can be superstrong, but if the eavesdropper can guess the key, it won't matter.

This is important because many encryption routines need a trustworthy source of random numbers to help pick the key. Some attackers will simply substitute their own random-number generator and use it to undermine the key choice. The algorithm remains strong, but the keys are easy to guess by anyone who knows the way the random-number generator was compromised.

Encryption's weak link No. 10: TyposOne of the beauties of open source software is that it can uncover bugs -- maybe not all of the time but some of the time.

Apple's iOS, for instance, had an extra line in its code: goto fail. Every time the code wanted to check a certificate to make sure it was accurate, the code would hit the goto statement and skip it all. Oops.

Was it a mistake? Was it put there on purpose? We'll never know. But it sure took a long time for the wonderful "many eyes" of the open source community to find it.

Encryption's weak link No. 11: Certificates can be fakedLet's say you go to PeteMail.com with an encrypted email connection, and to be extra careful, you click through to check out the certificate. After a bit of scrutiny, you discover it says it was issued by the certificate authority Alpha to PeteMail.com and it's all legit. You're clear, right?

Wrong. What if PeteMail.com got its real SSL certificate from a different certificate authority -- say, Beta. The certificate from Alpha may also be real, but Alpha just made a certificate for PeteMail.com and gave it to the eavesdropper to make the connection easier to bug. Man-in-the-middle attacks are easier if the man in the middle can lie about his identity. There are hundreds of certificate authorities, and any one of them can issue certs for SSL.


Originally published on InfoWorld |  Click here to read the original story.
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