Monday, July 13, 2009

Podcast: Crypto-Gram 15 November 2007:

from the Nov 15, 2007 Crypto-Gram Newsletter
by Bruce Schneier

* The War on the Unexpected

If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment.

Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to - a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant - now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.

* Chemical Plant Security and Externalities

If the plant is worth $100 million, then it makes no sense to spend $200 million on securing it. If the odds of it being attacked are less than 1 percent, it doesn't even make sense to spend $1 million on securing it. The math is more complicated than this, because you have to factor in such things as the reputational cost of having your name splashed all over the media after an incident.

But to society, the cost of an actual attack can be much, much greater. A smart company can often protect itself by spinning off the risky asset in a subsidiary company, or selling it off completely. The overall result is that our nation's chemical plants are secured to a much smaller degree than the risk warrants.

In economics, this is called an 'externality': an effect of a decision not borne by the decision maker. The decision maker in this case, the chemical plant owner, makes a rational economic decision based on the risks and costs to him.

* Switzerland Protects its Vote with Quantum Cryptography

Moving data from point A to point B securely is one of the easiest security problems we have. Conventional encryption works great. PGP, SSL, SSH could all be used to solve this problem, as could pretty much any good VPN software package; there's no need to use quantum crypto for this at all. Software security, OS security, network security, and user security are much harder security problems; and quantum crypto doesn't even begin to address them.

* The Strange Story of Dual_EC_DRBG

Random numbers are critical for cryptography: for encryption keys, random authentication challenges, initialization vectors, nonces, key agreement schemes, generating prime numbers, and so on. Break the random number generator, and most of the time you break the entire security system. Which is why you should worry about a new random number standard that includes an algorithm that is slow, badly designed, and just might contain a backdoor for the NSA.

Generating random numbers isn't easy, and researchers have discovered lots of problems and attacks over the years. A recent paper found a flaw in the Windows 2000 random number generator; another paper found flaws in the Linux random number generator. Back in 1996, an early version of SSL was broken because of flaws in its random number generator.

Cryptographers are a conservative bunch; we don't like to use algorithms that have even a whiff of a problem.

The algorithm contains a weakness that can only be described as a backdoor.


length: 27:36
PS: this is my cheat sheet of Bruce Schneier's Podcast:
http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0711.html

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