Thursday, October 13, 2016

The doors

“The Doors of Perception”, by Aldous Huxley, published in 1956, emphasized the idea that the human brain is a filter of reality that doesn’t allow all the images and impressions that can’t be possible to process. Huxley wanted to test his theory with mescaline while taking notes of his experiences. Years later, Jim Morrison, would borrow the title of his book to name his band: The Doors. In fact, the song ‘Break on through to the other side’ talks about the book and the idea of being able to transfer those doors of perception. 

If we think in computer terms, we could ensure that the cybersecurity world is nothing but doors that open and close constantly. The more doors you open, the more complicated is to control them. And somebody will have to close them in order to avoid possible damages. Or create doors that take their enemies to other places, exactly where they want them to be. The National Security Agency (NSA) knows this and is considering the idea of putting trapdoors (false doors), undetectable and hidden in millions of codebooks. 

The technique would allow the attackers to decrypt their product keys from the Diffie-Hellman protocol. The Diffie-Hellman protocol lets two interlocutors exchange their protected data hiding it with respect to a third interlocutor (which means this third person couldn’t find out). Researchers have designed the way to put backdoors that can’t be detected in the cryptographic codes of protected websites, private virtual networks and Internet servers. Experts call them trapdoors or false doors. This would make hackers decipher hundreds of millions of encrypted communications and supplant the key holders in a cryptographic way. That is, when you open the back door, the attackers would be giving away all this information in a passive way.

The technique would be something remarkable. Diffie-Hellman significantly increases the burden on the intruders because it changes periodically the encryption key to protect the communications. As in the public key encryption, the security protocol Diffie-Hellman is based on prime numbers theory calculations that are so big that it is very difficult for the attackers to solve.

For the key holder, a key with a first false door would look like any other 1.024-bit key. For the attackers, the problem that lies beneath the discrete logarithm would be about 10 thousand times easier to decipher. That is, going through a false door, would be easier than going through any other door. This makes the key with the false door something ideal for the kind of campaign used by Edward Snowden in 2013, which allowed decoding vast encrypted expanses of the Internet.
 “Snowden’s documents have raised some serious questions about the backdoors in Public-Key Cryptography Standards (PKCS)”, Nadia Heninger from the University of Pennsylvania, declared to Arstechnica website. “We are proving that false doors with prime numbers, which can break keys of 1.024 very efficiently, are completely viable.

Heninger belongs to the group of researchers from the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) and the University of Pennsylvania that claim for more transparency in the security world and have called for security standards-setters to publish the seeds for the prime numbers on which their standards rely.

Experts have proved, once more, that the prime numbers 1.024-bit are no longer safe and that the attackers could use a “special number field sieve” (SNFS) that could create a prime number that looks like a safe one, but it is not. The team doesn’t ensure that the cryptographic prime numbers have been victims of the backdoors, they just say that they are no longer safe.

Unlike literature or music, where doors always take the listener or the reader to a safe location, or at least a pleasant place, in the world of cybersecurity, where emotions do not exist, everything is not said… or done. Yet.

Image source: Freeimages


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