Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Security Management //

Encryption

5/16/2018
09:35 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
50%
50%

Relax: PGP Is Still Secure

Talk about overreacting. After researchers claimed to have found some flaws in PGP, the industry lost its collective mind. Here's what is really happening.

This past Sunday evening, rumors swept the Internet that some researchers from Germany and Belgium were about to announce a successful attack on Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) -- OpenPGP -- as well as the corporate-used S/MIME for encrypting email.

While the researchers were slated to announce details on May 15, this storm caused a premature release of the exploit details.

Initial reactions were of "the sky is falling" variety. Tellingly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation added to the overall panic with an advisory to remove PGP encryption.

The problem was, the initial reaction was wrong.

What was described by the "Efail" paper was not that the underlying protocols were broken or even attacked. The researchers found a way for some email programs to get tricked into revealing the plaintext of a message through an injected HTML element sent to a user that was processing HTML elements in their mail clients.

One is forced to ask, then, how that HTML element that causes information to be exfiltrated gets injected in the first place?

If someone is running a man-in-the-middle attack on your email, there are other significant problems that you face. Of course, hacked email accounts or compromised SMTP servers are possible. Here again you face severe problems regardless of the mail situation.

In any case, if an attacker has an encrypted blob of mail and knows who is able to decrypt it, they simply target the person most likely to have HTML view enabled. Boom -- they get the content.

So, that's a problem. But it can be dealt with by not enabling HTML email in your client.

Problem solved for PGP.

The underlying cause of all this has been known for over a decade, and a solution proposed at that time. Some email clients have ignored the solution.

Crypto maven Matthew Green -- he teaches crypto at John Hopkins University -- thinks the S/MIME attack is actually more interesting. He tweeted:

It's [the PGP attack] an extremely cool attack and kind of a masterpiece in exploiting bad crypto, combined with a whole lot of sloppiness on the part of mail client developers. The real news here is probably about S/MIME, which is actually used in corporate e-mail settings. Attacking and modifying encrypted email stored on servers could actually happen, so this is a big deal. Plus the attack on S/MIME is straightforward because it's (a) a dumb protocol, and (b) a simple protocol not filled with legacy cruft, and (c) it's built into email clients. Dumb and simple and one vendor to blame.

The real problem then is that Microsoft Outlook is broken from this, and it is routinely used for encrypted email in corporations and the military.

There may have to be company policy updates right now to stop email HTML from being used. No doubt Microsoft will fix it at some point.

The meta-lesson in all of this may be for the computing community. Don't panic. Take a breath and look at the facts.

Related posts:

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/9/2020
4 Security Tips as the July 15 Tax-Day Extension Draws Near
Shane Buckley, President & Chief Operating Officer, Gigamon,  7/10/2020
Russian Cyber Gang 'Cosmic Lynx' Focuses on Email Fraud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  7/7/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15105
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
Django Two-Factor Authentication before 1.12, stores the user's password in clear text in the user session (base64-encoded). The password is stored in the session when the user submits their username and password, and is removed once they complete authentication by entering a two-factor authenticati...
CVE-2020-11061
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
In Bareos Director less than or equal to 16.2.10, 17.2.9, 18.2.8, and 19.2.7, a heap overflow allows a malicious client to corrupt the director's memory via oversized digest strings sent during initialization of a verify job. Disabling verify jobs mitigates the problem. This issue is also patched in...
CVE-2020-4042
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
Bareos before version 19.2.8 and earlier allows a malicious client to communicate with the director without knowledge of the shared secret if the director allows client initiated connection and connects to the client itself. The malicious client can replay the Bareos director's cram-md5 challenge to...
CVE-2020-11081
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
osquery before version 4.4.0 enables a priviledge escalation vulnerability. If a Window system is configured with a PATH that contains a user-writable directory then a local user may write a zlib1.dll DLL, which osquery will attempt to load. Since osquery runs with elevated privileges this enables l...
CVE-2020-6114
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
An exploitable SQL injection vulnerability exists in the Admin Reports functionality of Glacies IceHRM v26.6.0.OS (Commit bb274de1751ffb9d09482fd2538f9950a94c510a) . A specially crafted HTTP request can cause SQL injection. An attacker can make an authenticated HTTP request to trigger this vulnerabi...