Friday, October 5, 2007

More on the PGP issue

There have been several comments regarding the PGP whole disk encryption bypass issue and in the process a few people have brought up the question that my discussion of them is exactly what I have preached against with "insecurity researchers"; however, I want to clear a few things up.

Yes, I wrote:
"So, let's see if we can figure out the economic process ...
1. Find some vulnerability in some widely used product.
2. Create a proof-of-concept and publish it to the world (preferably before sharing it with the vendor).
3. Use FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to sell the services of a security consultancy startup.
4. Profit!"
But this PGP issue is not insecurity research:
  1. It is not a vulnerability; it's a problem in the design. It's not a coding bug; it's a "dangerous" approach to solving a problem. And if that doesn't convince you that this is not a vulnerability, even PGP thinks there's no problem.
  2. There's no proof-of-concept. There's a threat model, sure, but that's not a POC. There's no exploit code, there's only paradigms of attack/defense. I think that will even pass the Ranum test.
  3. If you think this is FUD, I apologize. I obviously do not. However, please note, there are no services being sold, no ads on the pages hosting this content, nor in the feeds, etc. There's zero royalty going to me. I'm not even using a real name to take credit. I just want to discuss paradigms of attack/defense and intricately examine and evaluate what some might call an academic-only exercise. Extended readership is nice, but not the intention here.
  4. See #3 -- no profit here.
For the record ... I did discuss this (in the real world) with the vendor. They said the documentation level was fine, and even wanted to close my support ticket before actually adding the KB article that was available for current customers only, which is now accessible here. I asked for them to send a notice to current customers, but they decided there was no warrant for that. I even asked to escalate my support ticket more than once.

I still have respect for the vendor and I encourage others to evaluate all solutions thoroughly regardless of this or anything else. The bottom line is that customers (current and potential) have the right to know their risks ahead of time-- they should not have to buy consultants/professional services time to become aware of a feature like this. It should just be well known. Jon Callas has a thorough track record of proven expertise and his opinion is very valid, just like my (somewhat opposing) view is valid.

I do also wish everyone to understand that "backdoor" has controversy-- I never intended this to mean a backdoor that law enforcement, etc., could use. It's not a cryptographic backdoor; it's a backdoor in the historical sense-- as in there's a way to get unauthorized access.

Yes, the Trojan possibilities seem absurd because malware could do more. What isn't discussed, though, is that malware doing this in addition to the other things it does leaving workstations in a wholesale bypass state so that any less sophisticated smash/grab thief can have access is still a possibility. It would be more than a nuisance to an enterprise IT shop, whether you think somebody would take the time to do it or not.

And, of course, there's the timing attack: grabbing the machine when it shuts down, but before it comes back up. That's the risk that is barely documented--not discoverable by 99+% of current and potential customers. That's the point. If you read into anything else beyond, then you're missing the idea.

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