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Anti-snooping operating system close to launch (developed to defeat Brit snooping laws)
New Scientist ^ | May 28, 2002

Posted on 05/29/2002 7:57:29 AM PDT by John Jorsett

Computer activists in Britain are close to completing an operating system that could undermine government efforts to the wiretap the internet. The UK Home Office has condemned the project as potentially providing a new tool for criminals.

Electronic communications can be kept private using encryption. But new UK legislation will soon give law enforcers the right to demand encryption keys from anyone suspected of illegal activity.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was introduced to update UK surveillance laws to include electronic communications. But privacy campaigners say it gives too much power to law enforcers and permits intrusive eavesdropping.

Peter Fairbrother, a mathematician and computer enthusiast, is programming the new operating system, called M-o-o-t. "It is aimed at anybody who's concerned about the government being nosey," he says.

Remote storage

M-o-o-t aims to beat RIPA powers by storing encryption keys and other data overseas, beyond the reach of investigators. No data will be stored on the computer's hardware.

Documents and email messages will be kept on servers outside the UK government's jurisdiction. Communication with these servers will be secured by encryption.

It will be possible to store files on any server that allows encrypted File Transfer Protocol (secure FTP) access. It will even be possible to share files between different servers, meaning that if one server were compromised, this would still not provide a complete file.

M-o-o-t will be almost entirely contained on a CD that will run on most PCs and Macintosh computers. The CD must be placed in a computer at start up and will then load up a graphical user interface, as well as a number of applications including an email client and a word processor. Fairbrother says the system aims to make it easy for anyone to use the suite of tried and tested cryptographic protocols that M-o-o-t combines.

Criminal tool

A spokeswoman for the Home Office dismissed privacy concerns over RIPA and warned that the system could provide criminals with a new tool: "This particular technology could provide the criminally inclined with a tool to further their criminal intent."

She told New Scientist: "Such a device in the wrong hands will do far more to infringe the human rights of innumerable potential victims than a regulated and inspected process such as RIPA could ever allow."

Fairbrother admits that the M-o-o-t might be used by criminals but says there are already more complicated tools available for determined lawbreakers. "The benefits far outweigh the problems," he says.

Master keys

Communication will only be possible with other M-o-o-t users using keys that expire after a single use. "Master" encryption keys will be kept on the remote servers in a format that makes it impossible to distinguish them from random data without the correct password.

This is possible using the Steganographic File System developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge. It stores all data as apparently random information.

"M-o-o-t sounds like a great idea," says Bruce Schneier, security expert and head of US company Counterpane Security. But he adds that extensive testing will be needed to ensure there are no software bugs: "Like any security technology, if you rely on it and it has flaws then you don't have the security you rely on."

RIPA, introduced in July 2000, allows UK police to intercept electronic communications using equipment installed at ISPs. When part three of RIPA is brought into power later in 2002, police will also be able to demand access to message encryption keys. Those who fail to hand over their keys could face a prison sentence.

Fairbrother says a version of M-o-o-t should be ready for testing in the next two weeks. The final product ought to be ready for the introduction of part three of RIPA, he adds.

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; News/Current Events; Technical; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: computersecurityin; privacylist

1 posted on 05/29/2002 7:57:30 AM PDT by John Jorsett
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Comment #2 Removed by Moderator

To: semper_libertas
There are many ways to do this, depending on what you want to accomplish. Some are illegal, such as using chains of overseas proxies without permission of their owners. Others are legal, or at least not illegal. Things like public anonymizers, mail-to-news gateways, the Cyberpunk and Mixmaster systems, nymservers, Freenet, Crowds.

You need some technical sophistication to use these things succesfully.

3 posted on 05/29/2002 8:28:57 AM PDT by proxy_user
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: proxy_user
"You need some technical sophistication to use these things successfully."

There is a very low-tech yet unbreakable method. You and someone agree on a book in both of your homes. You send a series of numbers that reference a page, paragraph, sentence, and letter or punctuation position. To break the code you must know the book title, which number is the page, which is the paragraph (if you use it), which number is the sentence, and which number is the actual character etc.. In using this method, repeating the same letter will generate a completely different sequence of numbers each time.

Unless you or the other person tells the government what book you are using they cannot break the code.

For example if I sent you 2,1,34,6,10,7,1,26,4,22,4,20,3,9,1,37,1,1 I doubt if any of our alphabet government agencies could tell you what I sent.

Sending a unique value say 78 would tell the person to change the order of page,paragraph,sentence,character. If you want to protect it further you could apply some encryption to it but that usually means you have to have a copy of the code somewhere and the whole purpose of this method is to prevent anyone from finding the encryption key.

The only caveat with this method is to choose a book or books that would be common to many homes not something unique like the collected wisdom of Hillary Clinton, which only has 1 blank page.

5 posted on 05/29/2002 9:00:49 AM PDT by Wurlitzer
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To: Wurlitzer
Someone has already suggested a similar approach, though a bit more high tech. What you're describing is a series of "one time pads"; keys that are used only once and then tossed. These are great unless someone compromises the book of code sheets. A researcher recently suggested using a continuous stream of data as the source for the one time pads. Users would simply pick a particular moment in time to start collecting data from the stream to generate the keys. When they're done, they discard the data. The next time the want to encrypt data, they go back to the stream and collect more data for a fresh set of keys. So long at the agreed upon time to start collecting data is kept secure, the given message is secure; even though the data stream is being broadcast to the general public. (Except, of course, from brute force attacks. But all codes are eventually suceptible to brute force attacks.)
6 posted on 05/29/2002 9:19:13 AM PDT by Redcloak
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To: Redcloak
"But all codes are eventually suceptible to brute force attacks.) "

You may be right Redcloak but to my knowledge, the method I described has not been broken without one of the parties giving up the book.

7 posted on 05/29/2002 9:21:32 AM PDT by Wurlitzer
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To: Wurlitzer
It's very secure. However, if one has the resources of an unlisted government agency and a basement full of Cray computers at their disposal, even one time pads can be beaten. A defense would be to encrypt garbage along with the "good stuff". This wastes "Agent Smith's" valuable computer time decoding things like grocery shopping lists and your 5-year old's poetry.
8 posted on 05/29/2002 9:38:24 AM PDT by Redcloak
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To: Wurlitzer
Kahn's "The Codebreakers" shows how this can be broken. It's not very secure.
9 posted on 05/29/2002 9:56:05 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic
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To: Redcloak
No, onetime pads cannot be broken. One+epsilon time pads can be broken. See the venona pages on the internet.
10 posted on 05/29/2002 9:57:01 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic
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To: Redcloak
I believe that the NSA uses white noise from a radio telescope as a one-time key. A 650-meg CD of random electromagnetic crap from the sun makes for a hell of a secure key.
11 posted on 05/29/2002 10:03:25 AM PDT by Britton J Wingfield
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To: *privacy_list;*Computer Security In
Bump to Index
12 posted on 05/29/2002 10:37:42 AM PDT by Free the USA
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To: Doctor Stochastic
Kahn's "The Codebreakers" shows how this can be broken. It's not very secure. "

Strongly disagree! If used as described it has not been broken. Only if letters in the same sentence are reused (if your lazy) or you limit yourself to a single page (lazy again). The permutations are huge.

2,7,16,73,45,67,11,42,5,3,51,48,2,6,35,88 is "AAAA" encrypted. All you have to know is the book I used, which number is the page, which number is the sentence, and which is the character. (I didn't use paragraph I'm lazy it also is usually a smaller number and could be spotted.)I also changed the sequence somewhere in the string.

13 posted on 05/29/2002 10:44:10 AM PDT by Wurlitzer
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To: Wurlitzer
It's a slightly more complex version of the classic book cipher. Given enough ciphertext, it's crackable. You use that method long enough, and whoever's watching you will assemble enough of your messages to begin deciphering them.
14 posted on 05/29/2002 11:08:27 AM PDT by general_re
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To: Wurlitzer
Don't bet your life on it. Codes of this type have been broken without even knowing the book.

There are several pitfalls. A part of the book cannot be reused in other messages else the overlap allows unfolding of the code. It's not easy to select a book for two people to share and that is not obvious to the adversary; Bible, Quotations of Mao, Shakespeare, Book of Common Prayer, Gone With the Wind, Dictionary, etc., are all rather obvious. It's easy to check the code against many known books. Some books just do not have enough words (even The Dictionary) and using the book to select letters rather than words leaks even more information. The adversaries may also be suspicious that a suspected spy has a copy of a particular book.

15 posted on 05/29/2002 11:10:52 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic
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To: Britton J Wingfield
There was someone using digital images of working lavalamps to generate random sequences for people on the net to use. I don't think this is still available, but it was an interesting idea, and probably one that the average person could implement.
16 posted on 05/29/2002 11:18:54 AM PDT by John Jorsett
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To: Doctor Stochastic
'Zackly. And along with the shortcomings of the method itself, there's still the problems inherent in any secure communications - how do you know your key exchange isn't compromised? How do you know the black hats aren't watching you and observing that you always pull out a copy of "Little House on the Prairie" when you get e-mail from "John"?

One-time pads are uncrackable, given two conditions. One, they must be random. Two, they must be uncompromised. The Venona stuff failed the first test - the Soviets got lazy and started re-using pads when they should have tossed them. John Walker was possibly the most dangerous spy in the history of the United States. Why? He was was giving the Soviets the pads and the "word of the day" to tell them what pad to use - there was a ten-year period during which the Soviet Union read every single piece of flash traffic that the US Navy generated.

17 posted on 05/29/2002 11:26:34 AM PDT by general_re
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To: Doctor Stochastic
"Don't bet your life on it. Codes of this type have been broken without even knowing the book."

You say yes, I say no so we will have to disagree! Noodle this around. If raghead #1 wants to tell raghead #2 that tomorrow is the day he does not send out a 100 page document. He encrypts "tomorrow" using the selected book. Using only the bare minimum of code, out of a book with 200 pages, 40 lines per page, 80 characters per line. Any of the 5 characters can come from any page, any line with a source of 640,000 possible characters. To decrypt you need some pattern or some type of mathmatical repetition. Raghead 1 can use any "t", any "o", any "m", any R, and any "w" in an entire book.

Calling all number crunching type people what are the odds of finding the sequence of just 5 characters in 640,000 in the correct order?

The page,line,character sequence must be know. P,L,C or C,L,P or C,P,L etc then the book title must be known. You have to also know that this is the type of code being used.

18 posted on 05/29/2002 12:50:42 PM PDT by Wurlitzer
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Comment #19 Removed by Moderator

Comment #20 Removed by Moderator

To: Redcloak
But all codes are eventually suceptible to brute force attacks.

You mean ciphers not codes. The point of cryptography is to make the expense of breaking the cipher greater than the amount of time the data has to be kept secret. For example the message "The suicide bombing starts in two hours Abdul" doesn't need to be kept secret as would a message planning something six months in the future.

21 posted on 05/29/2002 8:57:06 PM PDT by altair
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To: altair
Exactly. Encryption more often works by making the information stale by the time an adversary cracks it. This is seen in the VENONA messages Doctor Stochastic mentioned earlier. The Soviets were using one time pads to encrypt their messages. When they did it properly, it made the transmissions virtually impossible to read. But there were sometimes errors in the handling of the code sheets. This allowed the US and the UK to eventually read some of the messages, though years later. The content of any given message was, of course, beyond stale; but, there were some items that weren't out of date. The Soviets, thinking that the code was unbreakable, used the same covernames for years. Traffic analysis and the like allowed the US and UK to identify many of the Soviet agents mentioned. That information hadn't gone stale by the time the messages were cracked! Among the agents who's codenames were uncovered were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The NSA's VENONA pages are a facinating read.

22 posted on 05/29/2002 9:12:05 PM PDT by Redcloak
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