back to article Four ways the Guardian could have protected Snowden – by THE NSA

The Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger fears journalists – and, by extension, everyone – will be reduced to using pen and paper to avoid prying American and British spooks online. And his reporters must fly around the world to hold face-to-face meetings with sources ("Not good for the environment, but increasingly the …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. fLaMePrOoF

    None of this is relevant though if any link in the electronic chain can be presented with a court order or threatened by the security services to reveal data. we've already seen 2 businesses fall to this with one possibly facing obstruction charges.

    You can't subpoena a face to face conversation (provided you avoid it being monitored / recorded in any way0 and that's the whole point of Rusbridger's stance and why this article is virtually pointless...

  2. Tom 38 Silver badge
    Joke

    Be careful Chris

    This is close to material that is useful to a terrorist.

    Actually not much of a joke is it :(

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Be careful Chris

      "Actually not much of a joke is it :("

      Not when the HomeSec thinks it's justified to hold Miranda under anti-Terrorist laws.

      1. Steve Evans

        Re: Be careful Chris

        This is reminding me of the Kent Photographer who was held under terror laws for taking pictures of a fish and chip shop in Chatham.

        They love their catch-all powers don't they.

        1. cocknee
          Big Brother

          Re: Be careful Chris

          But the Kent photographer fell foul of a couple of thick plods who overstepped their intellect with use of powers they barely understood and were a disgrace to the uniform.

          However the Miranda debacle was orchestrated from a senior level and would've been sanctioned at a political level (implicitly or explicitly). This use of the "ways and means act" is beyond your average plod, just like the powers used against protesters at the fracking site. At least PACE applies to the latter.

          They were ready for the fallout (therefore a planned operation rather than opportunistic) as loud-mouths like Louise Mench was on Newsnight doing her Mr Angry impression quoting stuff that at that stage hadn't been in the public domain (though she also made it up as she went along too - Fox news style).

    2. Julian Taylor Silver badge
      Boffin

      The trick is to have communications that bypass legislation such as RIPA completely since there is clearly no point in securing information when the very people you are securing it against can request the origin key from you under threat of fine or imprisonment. Thus you could make the link secure by using encrypted channels via direct satellite links with a Transponder Lease (not hard to do and certainly not a major expense for an organisation like the Grauniad).

      1. Aaron Miller

        Still entirely susceptible

        to rubber-hose cryptanalysis.

        1. Euripides Pants Silver badge

          Re: Still entirely susceptible

          Yup...

          http://xkcd.com/538/

        2. Arthur 1

          Re: Still entirely susceptible

          Yes and no. If you're using a private key it's normally saved as a file somewhere, the actual contents are something you've likely never seen, and forget being able to remember them barring a particularly savant bout of autism. If you have some sort of deadman setup which nukes your sole copy of that key after a prescribed period, then no matter how hard they hit you and how much you want to, there's really nothing you CAN tell an adversary.

        3. h3

          Re: Still entirely susceptible

          Easiest way just post the file to alt.binaries.boneless no encryption.

          Once it exists it exists.

    3. HMB

      Re: Be careful Chris

      Did you read the prominent bits of the article that explained that the NSA outlined a lot of this?

      Lots of things help terrorists, like privacy and freedom. Maybe we should ban them, but then what would we have left to protect?

      I imagine Miranda felt pretty terrorised by the police.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        @HMB

        "Did you read the prominent bits of the article that explained that the NSA outlined a lot of this?"

        Did you not look at the prominent joke icon?

        1. HMB

          Re: @HMB

          @Brewster's Angle Grinder

          Did you not look at the whole of the post?:

          "Actually not much of a joke is it :("

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. A J Stiles

        Re: Be careful Chris

        Lots of things help terrorists, like privacy and freedom. Maybe we should ban them
        Isn't that precisely what the authorities are trying to do?

        1. Marshalltown

          Pish

          The difference between nation states and terrorist organizations is merely historical time spans. Nation states are mostly confident that they have the upper hand and don't need to brandish the stick often, while terrorists have not yet attained that goal, though the Taliban had some hopes in that direction some years ago. Read history and learn from it. Look at the War of the Roses, the English Civil War and Restoration, the American Revolution, why the Cajuns live in Louisiana, French Revolution, American Civil War, the Indian Mutiny, or the Boer War just to name a very few. The difference is merely that the governments of Nation States have terrified their populations into playing nicely by the rules and to mainly keep their mouths shut if the rules appear to be one sided. We are trained (brainwashed from birth) to see those outside pale and think, "there but for the grace of my nation state go I."

          1. Michael C.
            Childcatcher

            Re: Pish

            Go live in a bunker you paranoid git.

            It may come as a surprise to you but in democracies governments are elected. People contribute to and develop societies to define and shape the laws we live under, the laws that governments govern. Those are the two most prominent differences between terrorist organisations and governments.

            Your historical references are all examples of where governments have gone wrong, or were never established by the people. Sure, governments aren't perfect, we all know power corrupts, which is why it's an endless struggle. As Salman Rushdie once said, "freedom is not a tea party, freedom is a war".

            If you have laws, someone has to brandish the stick, to borrow a phrase. Sounds like you'd rather live in a lawless state. I'll hang around here if that's okay.

            1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

              Re: Pish @ Michael C.

              "It may come as a surprise to you but in democracies governments are elected. People contribute to and develop societies to define and shape the laws we live under, the laws that governments govern. Those are the two most prominent differences between terrorist organisations and governments."

              And, as has been pointed out all over the place, the German government of the 1930s was elected.

              "Your historical references are all examples of where governments have gone wrong, or were never established by the people."

              And what are your criteria for a government that has "gone wrong"? From my point of view, we have one - it is using draconian powers that should only be used in the direst of emergencies to stifle free-speech and legitimate investigation by the press. It is removing freedom from the average individual every day, and has been caught actually having a level of information about the everyday activities of its citizens that a government should never have. It has turned (over a number of terms of parliament, but it is still "the government") the police into a para-military organisation above the laws it is fails to enact without prejudice.

              If you are old enough, look back to, say, 1990, and consider whether you would have thought that this country could ever have become what we are living in, and that this discussion could ever have been seriously had by anyone other than those at the very extremes of society. I say it couldn't - the government has gone wrong, it has acted over-zealously in the face of a trivial threat, and we, the population are suffering for it. That, by any definition, is a government gone wrong.

              So, what was your point again?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Be careful Chris

          Well they could easily check for concealed weapons if they make us all walk around in clear plastic clothing. Would that be acceptable?

      4. Arthur 1

        Re: Be careful Chris

        Did you read the prominent bits of the article that explained that the NSA outlined a lot of this?

        Lots of things help terrorists, like privacy and freedom. Maybe we should ban them, but then what would we have left to protect?

        On your second point, do you really want a government answer to that? I think their line would disappoint you greatly.

        As for the NSA outlining a lot of it. It's not unusual for people to be prosecuted for compiling things which are otherwise publicly available. Aside from recent cases like Swartz, I recall a case of someone who put together a meticulously researched book on nuclear weapons which got them an FBI door knock and publication ban. They had only used public sources, mainly published by the government itself, but putting it all together plainly was apparently enough to make them one-a dem dam dirty terrarizers.

    4. James Loughner
      Unhappy

      Add Groklaw to the list of closings

      PJ has stopped Groklaw because of all of this

    5. fajensen Silver badge

      Re: Be careful Chris

      Yeah - but maybe a valid train ticket is more useful to a terrorist so we should ban those first!

    6. Michael C.
      FAIL

      It's almost as though you didn't even read the article.

    7. Mei Lewis

      Re: Be careful Chris

      That's what people who want to control you want you to think and say.

      It's also useful to an ordinary person trying to live their life in a free way.

    8. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: fLaMePrOoF

      "....You can't subpoena a face to face conversation...." You are missing the whole point - getting face-to-face with your source is the last thing you want to do as it is just about guaranteed exposure. Long before email arrived the security services were very, very good at physically following people, and they haven't forgotten those skills. Half the task for the security services is identifying the people involved, once they have the people identified they can move to legal means such as Section Seven interviews, demands for encryption keys, or less legal means such as extraordinary renditions. Happily, AQ made the mistake of thinking encrypted email was going to keep them safe, not realizing the primary concern of the security services was tracking who the AQ puppetmasters in Pakistan were talking to in the West rather than knowing what they were talking about. Once they had tracked the encrypted emails and identified the puppets receiving them they could follow them to other puppets or pick them up for decryption by weatherboarding as required. It is obvious from the Miranda affair that the authorities are tracking such parties as the Guardian journos and their friends and families. Rushbridger was incredibly naive not to have predicted it.

  3. Don Jefe
    Black Helicopters

    All good points.

    It's just that using procedures and products endorsed by the same people spying on you seems like a potential flaw. I know for an absolute fact that more government communications are sent via courier than people realize.

    If the government doesn't trust or follow their own advice I'm not exactly convinced those without nearly unlimited resources should either...

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      I like your thinking: an encrypted file, steganographically concealed on a thumb drive, concealed in another object that includes a tamper detection mechanism, sent by courier, while your partner acts as a decoy.

      Let's face it, El Graun will no more reveal their tradecraft than the spooks.

      1. g e
        Joke

        Steganography

        Well DUH.

        WTF do you think lolcatz is...

      2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Brewster's Angle Grinder

        "sent by courier"

        Seems the easiest way, innit?

        C.

      3. Sooty

        Why a thumb drive? Although i know they can be small, i have one on my keyring that is barely bigger than the USB prongs, a micro SD card would be better.

        Given how tiny they are, you could very easily hide them. Eitehr about your person where even the most invasive body cavity search would be unlikely to reveal them, or even in your luggage. Unless everything you are carrying is going to be cut into 1cm square chunks it'd be hard to find a well hidden one.

        1. Miek
          Linux

          "Given how tiny they are" -- Given that they [MicroSD cards] are made from metal it would be extremely easy to find with one of their metal detector wands. If you hid it in your luggage it would be likely be located within 30 seconds and removed within a minute or two.

          1. Smallbrainfield

            >"Given how tiny they are" -- Given that they [MicroSD cards] are made from metal it would be extremely easy to find with one of their metal detector wands. If you hid it in your luggage it would be likely be located within 30 seconds and removed within a minute or two.

            If you hid it in or near a metallic part of your luggage, how would they know? The wands are pretty general about where metal is and unless there are clear signs of tampering they're probably going to miss it?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              @Smallbrainfield and others

              Google hollow spy coin

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              MicroSD contain so little metal it's close to undetectable. Mostly they are plastic and silicon. I carry few cards on me every time I cross the US and UK border, which is many times a year. No one ever asked me about them.

              Anonymous because I wish to continue crossing these borders as before.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Wands

            Are there to detect ferrous metals (knives, guns) and not a few milligrams of copper. They don't even go off on the rivets in a paire of Levis

            The fun part if it's a coatdragging operation would be to encrypt an infinitely expandable zip or a few dozen goatse images.

          3. fajensen Silver badge

            MIcroSD are made of plastic, silicon and less that 10 mm^2 of some coppery alloy.

            Problem is that "They" have metal detectors, not magick wands like them what exists on TV - they will not find a MicroSD in my pocket or stocking unless they search by hand. "They" frequently miss my watch and my belt too - bigger lumps of metal.

        2. monkeyfish

          Aren't micro SD cards waterproof? You could see if they survive the digestive system...

          1. Don Jefe
            Happy

            Most electronics are waterproof if they don't have power running through them when/while immersed.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        " sent by courier, "

        Guaranteed 100% confidential if you send it by Yodel as there's little chance anyone anywhere will ever see it intact again.

        [Sorry, bad delivery day]

        And for those that still think the Guardian is a lefty paper: you haven't looked in the last few years have you? For some unfathomable reason they're still supporting the Cleggerons, who are about as leftie as Genghis Khan.

        1. Don Jefe
          Happy

          Re: " sent by courier, "

          You do realize that there's an entire industry of logistics and couriers out there beyond getting stuff from Amazon right?

          If you're really special you can even get your stuff in a diplomatic pouch. Business documents travel that way all the time. I doubt Snowden related files could pull that off, but it would be hilarious if someone slipped them in!

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "El Graun will no more reveal their tradecraft than the spooks"

        Until the journalist has a celebratory drink at a nearby watering hole, or another journalist goes through the contents of his bin. (and I mean a journalist in his office, not just another newspaper).

        Trebles all round!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All good points

      In point 2

      >Buy new machines for cash from a shop

      I'd go further and maybe pay a big issue seller or similar.

      If you do buy your own machine go there on foot from quite a distance away and thinking about it the same applies for where you pick up the machine from anyone you get to buy it for you.

      All in all it's probably better to buy a machine from a bloke in the pub and clean it.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: All good points

        Buy a computer?

        The truly paranoid make their own silicon

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Not that daft

    You have to wonder why the Brazilian was being used as a data mule

    I very much doubt he was a data mule. A canary in a coal mine, maybe, but not a mule.

    1. g e

      Re: Not that daft

      When you put it like that the Graun suddenly seems far more shrewd...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Angel

        Re: Not that daft

        When you put it like that the Graun suddenly seems far more shrewd...

        I'd like to think the spooks will use a data centre full of Crays to crack the solitary encrypted file on the laptop only to find it's contains nothing more than the goatse.cx image and an mp3 of someone blowing a raspberry.

        1. SFSecurity
          Holmes

          Re: Not that daft

          Well, of course the thing to do is assume, since you are a neo-Snowden and they want what you have, that the NSA stuff has back doors or other exploitable elements, so don't use all the elements that they suggest as a first step. Next, get yourself a good random number source and encrypt a variety of length "messages" and send them off to someone who you are sure is being monitored. Assume you send 100 random "messages" and one that has valid data as the meat between two slices of random numbers and you use TrueCrypt's hidden vault thinking to bury it even deeper, how much machine time will be wasted by NSA, etc. trying to make sense of it all?

          Frankly I think we should get in the habit of sending encrypted random number files on a regular basis, especially through TOR, so that they grab a bunch to chew on.

          Use a junker computer to send the files and then do a good wipe and re-install OS and other programs from a DVD right after you send out the c#$%.

          Sure, they have tons of money and hardware but there are more of us than them AND what we are doing takes almost no effort and d#$% little money. Say AllGo’s, or Raspberry Pi, and {brain fart} that cheap English one is used and programed to spit out these file over the free WiFi while you sip your coffee. What fun we could have!

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Not that daft

            "Next, get yourself a good random number source and encrypt a variety of length "messages" and send them off to someone who you are sure is being monitored. Assume you send 100 random "messages" and one that has valid data as the meat between two slices of random numbers and you use TrueCrypt's hidden vault thinking to bury it even deeper, how much machine time will be wasted by NSA, etc. trying to make sense of it all?"

            This is WHY if you use encryption you must encrypt EVERYTHING, including your laundry list.

            Encrypting only the important stuff means that $unwantedguys already know that if it's encrypted it must be important.

          2. fajensen Silver badge

            Re: Not that daft

            Use a junker computer to send the files and then do a good wipe and re-install OS and other programs from a DVD right after you send out the c#$%.

            Or maybe create a mobile app that are downloading a few random videos of cats from youtube, encrypts them with a random key and forwards the encrypted files onto random instances of itself, where they are deleted?

            Think of the amount of RAID to back up all that crap for 5 years, racks and racks of FPGA's feeding custom chippery, CRAYS, Cluster Boxes with DSP's in them, MW air conditioning plants .... and eventually, after the NSA power consumption becomes a fraction of the US, "They" can get a stream of cat videos. Which cost "us" a few Wh/year and a data subscription that we had anyway.

          3. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: SFSecurity Re: Not that daft

            "....What fun we could have!" Well, there are two holes in that idea. Firstly, since you're probably not on any watch list other than the "wannabe" list, your encrypted messages will be ignored. Secondly, should you begin a campaign to swamp the Internet with such traffic, even if you are not successful, you could find yourself running afoul of laws designed to stop people interfering with police investigations. "Sorry, M'lud, but Mr Securty's continual harassment emails, just like prank emergency calls, interfered with our ability to intercept coms between paedos/software-pirates/organized crime, so we were forced to arrest him and charge him and hope you send him down for a custodial sentence, to discourage others from his silliness." <Banging of gavel> "Helping paedos, you say? We must think of the children - five years! Oh, and he didn't supply his encryption keys when asked? Add another two on top, and keeping adding them until the bounder co-operates." Enjoy!

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Not that daft

      Absolutely. There's a lot being imagined or read into the case which may not be warranted. There is no evidence he had any secret or encrypted documents or that he handed over any password other than the login for his PC and PIN for his phone.

      Advice on how to be a data mule is all well and good but has no application to someone who isn't and does not want to be.

      In some discussion it's being suggested Miranda (Greenwald, the Guardian, and 'other co-conspirators') made a complete hash of things when in fact he was probably no more than any other person passing through who the authorities decided to intimidate because of 'guilt by association' and 'because they can'.

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Not that daft

        There is no evidence he had any secret or encrypted documents or that he handed over any password other than the login for his PC and PIN for his phone.

        Actually we do. The QC for the government said this in court today:

        Material taken from the claimant includes material the unauthorised disclosure of which would endanger national security of the UK and put lives at risk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not that daft

          "The QC for the government "

          Said what he was paid to say.

          It doesn't, in any sensible way, count as evidence.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not that daft

          "Material taken from the claimant includes material the unauthorised disclosure of which would endanger national security of the UK and put lives at risk."

          Translation: The Yanks would nuke us.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not that daft

            Translation:

            If you knew what it was, you'd know we had no legal basis whatsoever to put the screws on an innocent man, were only doing it to intimidate and will be spending the next twenty years wasting taxpayers money defending the indefensible in the EU courts.

            Worse, Teresa would lose her job.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not that daft

          Replace "Lives" with "Careers" and it is The Truth!

    3. veti Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Not that daft

      We'd all like to believe that people are way shrewder than they appear to be. It's oddly comforting to think that people, even our enemies, actually know what they're doing.

      But my experience is, t'ain't so. I've been a journalist, and I can assure you most journalists are pretty much as dim as they appear. There are exceptions, and also it's common for outsiders to misread them because of failing to understand what they're trying to achieve - but super-geniuses keeping forever one step ahead of the Law, they ain't.

      Read Adam Curtis on the depressing and sordid history of MI5. Then consider that, in fact, most professions in the UK - including journalism - are exactly as incompetent as that. And then consider that MI5 is not the least respected organisation of its kind - sure, the CIA and NSA may rightly deride it, but that contempt goes both ways, and they still work with one another - and you'll realise that this level of useless is actually a global phenomenon.

      "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity". There's a reason that saying took off.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

    ~ George Orwell, 1984

    If the White House Press Secretary said this from his podium, would anyone doubt it?

    If Orwell had titled his novel 2014, he would be seen as a prophet.

    1. HMB

      White House? Try Whitehall

      It would be foolish to think that things are as serious as that, but there is that underlying feeling of creeping malevolence.

      And yet the data is safer in the US than it is in the UK. That speaks volumes to me. Americans are wise to treasure their bill of rights.

      Maybe if we cared enough about our rights, our politicians would give us some.

      Maybe if we weren't so distracted about people campaigning against energy, berating our teenagers exam results or kidding ourselves that we have the money or competency to involve ourselves in other peoples conflicts effectively we'd be looking at what we can achieve....

      ...if we weren't so cynical.

      Owing to paradoxes I'm now obliged to say the following.

      We can make things better. The only people who make a difference are the people who believe they can.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "~ George Orwell, 1984

      If the White House Press Secretary said this from his podium, would anyone doubt it?"

      To be fair, yes. The truly powerful are capable of making you think you have freewill while exercising complete and utter control. It's much preferable to have a deluded and malleable population than one which knows the truth, hates you and constantly looks for any chink in your armour.

      Remind you of any nations you know?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ...probably back to when we were swinging from trees

        "Remind you of any nations you know?"

        Or people, for that matter.

        "Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on

        a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of

        it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people

        don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in

        Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the

        country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to

        drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist

        dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no

        voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.

        That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,

        and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the

        country to danger. It works the same in any country." - Herman Goering

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm pretty sure he's already considered a prophet

  6. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Coat

    But, but...

    GnuPGP, Security Enhanced Linux, they only recommend that because they do have a backdoor and can read the data it nevertheless. They are everywhere!

    Mine's the one with the tin foil hat in its pocket.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But, but...

      Place your bets now, the reason the NSA are so terrified by these leaked documents is because the truth about 11/9 (fuck the USA date system) might be in one of them.

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: But, but...

      Look at it this way:

      Apple - USA company, part of PRISM, closed source. Definitely compromised.

      MS - USA company, part of PRISM, closed source. Definitely compromised.

      Linux - no specific country, open to inspection. Probably compromised.

      If you are *that* worried keep an air gap.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: But, but...

        Don't forget, there are many open-source alternatives to Linux

        1. wowfood

          Re: But, but...

          or better yet, build your own OS from the ground up with security as the main focus.

          1. swissrobin

            Re: But, but...

            "or better yet, build your own OS from the ground up with security as the main focus."

            For most of us that really means "use pencil and paper"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But, but...

      And that's why they made such a big deal about PGP Zimmerman? If there was a backdoor, like there is in most, then PGP wouldn't have gotten the attention of the US spooks. Then again, it may be a trap...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But, but...

        "Oh, noes!", yelped the NSA when Public Key Cryptography went main-stream,"Please don't release it or tell anyone" they said, "you'd be throwing our national security into the briar patch" they mumbled whilst making frantic jumping gestures with their eyeballs....

  7. frank ly Silver badge

    How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

    It sounds like a fun thing to do, regardless of effiency or reliability.

    1. Don Jefe
      Thumb Up

      Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

      That would be hilarious! Start a whole movement to communicate securely via carrier pigeon and see if the government tries to ban birds! After all that crow could be a carrier pigeon in disguise!

      It'd be like the Cold War all over except bird vs bird vs drones disguised a birds and anti-bird artillery batteries surrounding every town, maybe some giant nets too!

      1. g e
        Go

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        I concur

        Full steam ahead!

      2. monkeyfish

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        If you used seagulls maybe the government would start a counter strike campaign to cull them all. That's one way to get rid of the buggers!

      3. Marshalltown

        Have you ever ...

        ... wondered why the SPCA really exists? Birds, especially ones that travel long ranges in particular would be easy to ban during a bird flu scare. The chicken population in China still hasn't recovered and they barely fly.

      4. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        "It'd be like the Cold War all over except bird vs bird vs drones disguised a birds and anti-bird artillery batteries surrounding every town, maybe some giant nets too!"

        Orwell was a pretty good prophet - it would be great if Hanna-Barbera were, too! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dastardly_and_Muttley_in_Their_Flying_Machines.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        XOR every odd end even bit, then send every odd bit, every even bit and every XOR result on separate cards/pigeons - if any one card is intercepted it is no good as you would need two to read the data, but if any one pigeon prevented prom getting to it's destination yet the others do, the message still arrives.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

      How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

      RFC1149

      1. Not That Andrew

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        I remember reading (here?) that a tech outfit in South Africa trialled this (using USB sticks) and concluded that the bandwidth and reliability was better that the local telecoms monopoly.

        1. Anonymous Dutch Coward

          Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

          Yep, it was on the Register. Pigeons between Howick and Durban, IIRC.

          BTW: anybody heard of homing rats?

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

            You'd have to genetically sequence each pigeon, to make sure that the government didn't intercept the pigeon, image your SD card and then send it the rest of the way with their own G-pigeon!

            Then test the genotype of each pigeon at both ends of the transaction!

            *Wow, meant as a joke, but creepily might actually make sense in establishing the new ISP (International Secure Pigeon) industry*

          2. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

            >>BTW: anybody heard of homing rats?

            Yes, my vegetarian friend was trapping rats and releasing them in a wood about a mile away.

            His visitors were convinced that it was the same rat so they tried to put a dab of purple paint on it. Unfortunately the rat thrashed around and became completely purple.

            It was back the next day. We still laugh about it.

          3. Ian 55

            Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

            Is not rat! Is a special kind of hamster! Is filigree Siberian hamster!

      2. Malcolm 2
        Happy

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        Granny alwasys said that there was nothing new under the sun. Did't really believe her at the time ...

    3. Anomalous Cowshed

      Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

      I've got pigeons crapping on my balcony every day, and I don't know what to do about it. They are so confident, that when you come at them screaming and thrashing your arms around to scare them off, they just look at you smugly and then turn away. Lately two of them (one male, one female I presume) were discovered in the early morning (6am) scouting out the fireplace as a possible location to establish a nest (it is summer, the fireplace is not in use). This isn't the first time they or their ancestors check out the fireplace, either. They were there a few years ago too. They also tend to crap on the floor and on the table as a memento each time, just in case you may have missed them.

      So any use that can be made of these pigeons is of great interest to me. And if together we can defeat the NSA and all the other troublesome acronyms, and make some money from it, then I am willing to let them lay eggs in the fireplace and establish a whole dynasty.

      1. Malcolm 2

        Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

        Have you tried pigeon pie?

    4. Sammy Smalls
      Black Helicopters

      Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

      Homing pigeon or weather balloon assisted playmonaut? I think we're beginning to see the true goal of Lohan.

    5. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: How about strapping a micro-SD card to a homing pigeon's leg?

      Re efficiency: bandwidth will be fine, latency might suck.

      As an extra steganography bit, you can masquerade the secret file transfer as a news service, following in the footsteps of the guy who graduated from distributing revolutionary pamphlets to creating the world's best knows news service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Reuter).

      Ironically, for his news agency the biggest advantage of carrier pigeons was latency... Reliability was apparently fine, too.

      Gotta love those bits of history...

  8. mark l 2 Silver badge

    let not forget Truecrypt with a hidden container, it would be almost impossible to prove it existed and as long as you give up the password to the first container they couldn't do you for refusing to give password.

    Also Steganography to hide messages into other files. As the spooks have already said that they drop P2P data from their snooping due you could put up some torrent of an MP4 video with the message hidden inside it, anyone who didn't know how to retrieve the message would just get some video of a cat playing a piano or whatever.

    1. Richard C.

      Or upload a multipart zip/rar to a newsgroup in multiple posting but let your source know that file 6 out of 14 is actually the encrypted data. The receiver (with the decryption key) could be any one: the source will have to protect their sending details though.

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Usenet

        "Or upload a multipart zip/rar to a newsgroup in multiple posting but let your source know that file 6 out of 14 is actually the encrypted data"

        Bit worried about how you'd let the source know that file 6 of 14 is *the one*.

        C.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @didodesign

          try here

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They used to say Bin Laden and co used such things, but there was never any proof. They stayed off the 'net anyway, it was obviously too risky.

      1. Don Jefe
        Alert

        Bin Laden

        You make a really good point about Bin Laden. If the most wanted man in modern history was able to hide in plain sight by basically just not getting online, that underlines how ineffective all the government spying on its own citizens really is.

        I find it highly unlikely that anyone visiting El Reg is a Bin Laden level target, but the NSA almost certainly has more data about us than they did him. That's just fucked up.

        1. swissrobin

          Re: Bin Laden

          Actually, wasn't he just "at home" when they finally "found" him?

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: TrueCrypt

      "let not forget Truecrypt with a hidden container"

      Very good point - I ran out of time to explore everything. I've just inserted a couple of small links about that (and steganography), cheers.

      C.

  9. Mage Silver badge

    The spooks use

    Numbers stations and one time pads.

    1. Ed 13
      Thumb Up

      Re: The spooks use

      Lincolnshire Poacher, anyone?

      1. bpfh Bronze badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: The spooks use

        @Ed 13 : That aerial on an RAF base in Cyprus stopped transmitting a few years ago IIRC...

  10. Buzzword

    What about borders?

    I get the part about securing your private key on a thumb drive. But what happens when you need to cross a border, yet you need to bring your private key with you so that you can continue to communicate securely when you're in another country? How do you smuggle your private key across the border?

    1. wowfood
      Coat

      Re: What about borders?

      anal cavity

    2. John Sanders
      Big Brother

      Re: What about borders?

      Very easy.

      You have done this well in advance before you are going to communicate.

      Also nothing stops you from splitting and slicing your key into several parts, hiding them into several files, but not some of it that you have memorized. Then you can reassemble the key anywhere.

      But the problem is the same, if the spooks figure or suspect that you have something, game over.

      1. diodesign Silver badge

        Re: What about borders?

        "if the spooks figure or suspect that you have something, game over."

        Yes, that was ultimately my thinking, too.

        C.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Multi Channel send

        I remember working on a program on PDP-11s to encrypt and split the data prior to transmission. The Internet did not exist so the transport medium was mag tape. The data was encrypted (if I recall we used DES) and then fed in to the split program. Each alternate block of data was written to a different tape. Thus you needed both tapes to reconstitute the encrypted messaged

        A courier (employee going on leave) took one tape back to head office.Once it was confirmed the tape arrived and had not been tampered with, the second courier carried the second tape. Once that was confirmed, the key was sent (I think by fax - it was a LONG time ago). You could then put everything back together.

        Time was no where near as critical as security, so that was not an issue.

      3. wowfood

        Re: What about borders?

        @John Sanders.

        Split the key up, and then memorise the last bit... did you happen to be watching Bullet proof monk recently?

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: What about borders?

          Yep - remember part, and also have a couple of places where you have altered the key ever so slightly: an O to an 0, or a couple of transposed figures. Even if it is captured, and assuming they don't beat it out of you (but, as has already been said, if they physically have you all that is left is your resistance to "questioning") then there is a level of "something you know" that can't be (easily) guessed.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about borders?

      AC for fairly obvious reasons. It's possible that my private key was posted to a couple of one-off gmail accounts in an attachment encrypted by a different key, And one in a password-protected zipfile.

      The cloud is actually quite friendly for a lot of this stuff as a side-channel for things you don't want to carry with you but need fairly easy access to.

      I'd point folks to K9-mail and GPG on Android also.

  11. CaptainHook

    Encrypted Contents

    Although an interesting read in general. In the specific case of Snowden, surely the US Government already know what the contents are, since it was copied from them.

    What they are trying to do is find out who now has a copy of it and maybe work out how Snowden is communicating and with whom.

    1. diodesign Silver badge

      Re: Encrypted Contents

      "surely the US Government already know what the contents are"

      Actually, I read claims that the NSA doesn't know exactly what Snowden grabbed.

      C.

    2. MyHandle123

      Re: Encrypted Contents

      Guilty conscience is what drives them.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Encrypted Contents @MyHandle123

        "Guilty conscience is what drives them."

        Unfortunately, that is one of the most powerful motivators.

  12. codefu
    Black Helicopters

    We need Plausible Deniability (i.e. What No TrueCrypt?)

    Mostly good points but you should/can also throw TrueCrypt into the mix.

    Apart allowing creation of a standard password based encrypted volume, one unique feature in TrueCrypt is the support for "Plausible Deniability". This is an encrypted volume with two passwords. One password provides access to the standard outer volume, and the other will decrypt a hidden volume inside the outer volume. Thus the user, if demanded his password under RIPA to decrypt the data, he simply gives up his outer volume password. By examining the encrypted data alone, even after decryption with the outer volume password, there should be no way for anyone to prove a hidden volume exists - hence he can plausibly deny existence of anything the authorities might be after.

    This is not to say it's completely foolproof as it could still be compromised under certain circumstances.

    1. TakeTheSkyRoad

      Re: We need Plausible Deniability (i.e. What No TrueCrypt?)

      Isn't that easy to identify ?

      Such as person provides "outer" password, officer decrypts "decoy" data, officer then re-encrypts "decoy" data, officer then notices that the two encrypted files do not match in file size.

      Depending on the size of the files involved I can't see that taking very long.... less than 9 hours anyway !

      1. Raumkraut

        Re: We need Plausible Deniability (i.e. What No TrueCrypt?)

        > Such as person provides "outer" password, officer decrypts "decoy" data, officer then re-encrypts "decoy" data, officer then notices that the two encrypted files do not match in file size.

        Truecrypt encrypts volumes, not files. You pre-create your truecrypt volume at a specific size on your drive, and can then fill that with whatever files you want, up to that size. If you have a hidden volume, you can use that's password to see a whole different set of files within the same volume.

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: We need Plausible Deniability (i.e. What No TrueCrypt?)

      "By examining the encrypted data alone, even after decryption with the outer volume password, there should be no way for anyone to prove a hidden volume exists"

      How would the 'missing' disk space be explained? Would it be contained in a swap file, for example?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: We need Plausible Deniability (i.e. What No TrueCrypt?)

        The outer container reports the full size of the volume, the inner container is written to the unused blocks. You can fill the outer container in which case the hidden area will simply be overwritten and lost.

        You can set the outer container not to overwrite the "unused" blocks but then this will reveal that there is hidden data.

        You can also have an unlimited number of containers within containers - there is no way to prove there isn't another hidden one inside the keys they have beaten out of you

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Use encryption and you are forced to hand over the decryption passwords. In the case of not giving passwords you are guilty as you can't prove yourself to be innocent.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Use encryption and you are forced to hand over the decryption passwords. In the case of not giving passwords you are guilty as you can't prove yourself to be innocent.

      I don't believe that's true. My understanding is the burden is on the prosecution to prove your defence of 'forgotten' or 'never had' does not stand up to scrutiny.

      The law can often be strict but it would be a travesty of justice if someone could send you an encrypted file, tip the police off, and get you sent down for a number of years. Our courts are not yet quite that facilitating.

      If they were the police would have cleaned up by simply posting out encrypted files on a CD and being there ready to nick the recipients.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        @Jason:

        "I don't believe that's true. My understanding is the burden is on the prosecution to prove your defence of 'forgotten' or 'never had' does not stand up to scrutiny.

        The law can often be strict but it would be a travesty of justice if someone could send you an encrypted file, tip the police off, and get you sent down for a number of years. Our courts are not yet quite that facilitating."

        The original article actually links to 2 such cases. Also, from wiki:

        The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Investigatory_Powers_Act_2000), Part III, activated by ministerial order in October 2007, requires persons to supply decrypted information and/or keys to government representatives. Failure to disclose carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail. The provision was first used against animal rights activists in November 2007, and at least three people have been prosecuted and convicted for refusing to surrender their encryption keys, one of whom was sentenced to 13 months' imprisonment.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          This was done by activists when the law was introduced - they email a block of random numbers to the home secretary and demanded that the police arrest him.

          We had a lecture from the police when this was introduced and asked how we could prove that the random background noise recorded by our detectors at CERN wasn't an encrypted message. Apparently we didn't have to worry because the laws were only for use against terrorists not nuclear physicists.

          1. Don Jefe
            Joke

            Nuclear physicists at CERN are terrorists! They're trying to destroy the universe by disproving God!

            Right?

        2. Rimpel

          Proving a file is encrypted

          Q. Is it possible to prove beyond all doubt that a file contains encrypted data - having a high entropy is of course a good indicator but it doesn't prove anything does it?. Maybe it is truly random noise or a subset of a compressed file?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A wrong assumption

    "As an aside: the AES-256 cipher, as mandated above, is recommended in the NSA's own advice [PDF]. Uncle Sam's spooks are told to use AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and 128-bit keys to protect material designated "SECRET". "TOP SECRET""

    Just because they recommend it does not mean they cannot read it themselves. Codes and ciphers are what the NSA does. It's their bread and butter and they hire a lot of very smart people to work on nothing else. DES was recommended to be used by the government and it was shown years after it's introduction just how vulnerable it was.

    The reason they get the passwords from the person is 1) It keeps their capabilities of what they can do secret and 2) It ties that information to the person during the prosecution. "Yes your Honour, the password provided by Mr. Miranda did indeed open the encrypted information in his possession." So Mr. Miranda cannot plead ignorance at his trial and be stamped a willing accomplice in transporting classified information by the prosecution should it come to that.

    What we know about the NSA / NRO is only a sliver of the truth. Many more shocking revelations await and unless Edward Snowden is treated fairly by the citizens of the US those other abuses will never see the light of day. Governments have no issue using threats, lies and deceit against their own citizens if it keeps them in line. When someone fears for their safety they turn to the government for protection. And that justifies their actions. They want people afraid. "Trust us, we know how to protect you." They want you to be sheep, trusting they can keep the wolves away by erecting fences around you.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: A wrong assumption

      DES was created and recommended in the mid-70's, is it any wonder that after computer power increased by several million times that the trade off in effort using it versus effort breaking it is a bit weak now?

      It is also worth noting that DES was surprisingly resistant to differential cryptanalysis, something only made public years after it was created:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differential_cryptanalysis

      So you really need to reconsider your tin-foil hat's settings. Most attacks do not go via the algorithm (if it is at all competent) but via the key, probably using Trojans or rubber-hose cryptanalysis.

      1. moiety

        Re: A wrong assumption

        Mr. Coward's tin foil hat settings are calibrated just fine IMO. If you have cracked a particular encryption method; then that is worthless as soon as anyone knows of your capability. Look at men and materiel left to die during WWII to avoid letting on that we had pwned Enigma, for example. Or the "carrots are good for your eyes" shenanigans to cover for the fact that we had radar.

        This is a public document released by the very people who's job it is to spy on people; and is therefore untrustworthy by the spook's own rules.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: A wrong assumption

          AES does not come from the NSA, nor has it been designed by the NSA and I really trust the saying of a large ensemble of non-NSA people who while away their time for a decade cracking the thing and come away with --- not much.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A wrong assumption

        You presumably use a Trojan on a rubber-hose for extra protection ?

    2. John Sanders

      Re: A wrong assumption

      """What we know about the NSA / NRO is only a sliver of the truth. Many more shocking revelations await and unless Edward Snowden is treated fairly by the citizens of the US those other abuses will never see the light of day. """

      That would be true if Snowden really knows anything big, and if the public's interest is what really motivates him.

      I'm on the opinion that he has mostly random stuff and that he's just another "useful idiot" who thinks he's doing a favour to the world.

      If he has anything really big, and not the usual crap (yes, stealing and killing in wars) about what the US army and spies do, why is he holding it and not publishing it straight away??? aaah all that inteligence information has to be filtered... because he doesn't know what he has.

      All nations have secrets, and like the reg notes, we're talking about powerful states. Of course they all abuse their powers. In England there is this little thing called "Legal interception" which is mandatory for telecoms.

      Do you really think the UK government (not just the current one, but any) will not abuse this? HA!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about WASTE ?

    Features of WASTE include secure P2P chatting and file transfer which seem ideal for this situation.

    Ok, each end point is known so not ideal for leaks but in this specific case then the data could be shifted encrypted from Germany to Brazil. The program can even flood the connection to show fixed bandwidth useage so nobody can tell from the transfer speed when a file is being moved.

    http://www.anonymous-p2p.org/waste.html

    Also seems to be have been resurrected :

    http://wasteagain.sourceforge.net/introduction.shtml

  16. Justicesays

    The objective of course

    Is not to avoid the target spying, as pointed out, between black bags, bugs etc. It going to be hard to avoid compromise.

    However, everyone adopting this kind of methodology will mean they have to return to the specifically targeted spying. Regardless of the resources of the nation, when it takes 3-4 agents to spy on one person, you wont be spying on more than a small proportion.

    Which will bring us back to the result where communication is generally private, unless they specifically target you.

    As the law is supposed to provide in any case.

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: The objective of course

      Sounds a lot like Nothing to hide, nothing to fear to me...

      1. Justicesays
        Facepalm

        Re: The objective of course

        Should get your ears checked out then

        And if you think you can somehow avoid the prying eyes of "the Man" should they specifically target you,

        then I direct you to this:

        http://xkcd.com/538/

        The police would probably just settle for indefinite detention for failing to decrypt.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    London now added to list of places

    where you do not transfer between flights if you are carrying anything of value.

    They didn't use to call it 'Thiefrow' for nothing.

    But seriously, along with anywhere within the 50 states of the USA you can now include the UK in the list of places where you should avoid passing through if you have any doubts about the stuff you are carrying.

    The UK Gove is nothing more than a US Sockpuppet these days. I wish Cameron had more balls that Blair/Brown but it seems that he is deficient in that area.

    1. John Sanders
      Childcatcher

      Re: London now added to list of places

      The UK Gove is nothing more than a US Sockpuppet these days. I wish Cameron had more balls that Blair/Brown but it seems that he is deficient in that area.

      OI! They are busy preventing people from accessing porn on the internet!

  18. NoneSuch

    Isn't asking the NSA for comm secuirty advice

    Like asking Ronnie Biggs to set up security for the train system?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't asking the NSA for comm secuirty advice

      A Thief fears theft above all else...

  19. TakeTheSkyRoad

    I wouldn't trust encryption alone personally

    Since it seems the computing power of the likes of goverment agencies is increasing so much and there are now techniques for identifying patterns in encrypted data which make cracking easier then I think it needs to be combined with other techniques.

    I'm think specifically of hiding encrypted content in media files... a pgp key could be buried in a high resolution jpeg image for example. If done in such a way that the image still works as a jpeg the extra data would just like like a slight corruption of the image.

    Then you could compare the original jpeg to the modified one to extract the extra data (the buried key).

    A similar technique could be used to burry encrypted files into a video stream so a low bit stream video is re-rendered as 1080p but the extra data is the encrypted file. Ideally adding the extra data wouldn't make the video unwatchable, just lower quality than the expected 1080p.

    Disclaimer : I have no idea how technically feasible either of these suggestions is since I have no expertise in these areas ! I've just considered that encrypted data is all well and good but if there is no locked vault visible then nobody will ask for the key :)

    1. Graham 24
      Thumb Up

      Re: I wouldn't trust encryption alone personally

      You seem to be suggesting steganography, which hasn't been mentioned yet. It seems like a good way to do things - hide in plain sight can be remarkably effective.

      Officer: "Show me all your secret documents"

      Traveller: "I don't have any. But here's some holiday photos. Here's one of me on the beach, here's another of me on the beach, here's one of my at the bar..."

      (Officer gets very bored and waves you through)

    2. Steve Graham
      Thumb Up

      Re: I wouldn't trust encryption alone personally

      What you've just invented is called "steganography". There is a range of software around to do exactly what you are suggesting.

    3. Salts

      Re: I wouldn't trust encryption alone personally

      Yes this is steganography and is secure, but remember, you need to take the photographs and then delete the original, once you have the message secured in the image, although the alterations are subtle if you have the original then you can compare and make an assumption that something is hidden in the image.

      Hmmm, just had a thought (I need to get out more) as most cameras have specific CCD, DSP and as pointed out the budget of security services is very large, would it be possible to analyze the picture and have a good indication that it had been altered? A sort of finger print that is unique for every model of camera.

      This also makes me wonder about the plausible deniability of the second trucrypt volume with RIPA, if the authorities can show a Judge they suspect their is other information on the drive can said judge just lock you up anyway?

      As it would seem proving reasonable doubt is not actually worth anything these days. I can just see the police bringing in an Dr. Crypto expert witness and said witness saying there is a 60% possibility of data being embedded - Judge saying well that's more than 50% of to jail you go. The 60% would be easy to make up(prove). Dr Crypto - my research of people using Trucrypt show that 80% is for criminal usage, 70% of users always have a second volume etc. Needless to say some months later Dr Crypto will turn out to be a Phd. in ancient Greek with no expertise in cryptography, he believes that aliens built the pyramids and all his research has been shot down in flames by his peers.

      Yep I really do need to get out more.

  20. kempsy
    Big Brother

    TEMPEST?

    Might want to look into this as well. No point going to all the trouble of encrypting your files for transport if the NSA can read them off your screen and/or keyboard as you edit the them.

    1. moiety

      Re: TEMPEST?

      You've got to be quite close for that; and if a letter-agency is interested enough in you to pay an agent to get that close to you; then you're probably fucked anyway. Black bag; trojan; infinity phone; laser off the window etc.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Use once pads

    1) Take a popular DVD out of your library, ( Or any conpressed large publicly available file with little structure)

    2) XOR your message with data from the DVD with a x byte an offset

    3) Get the knowledge of the DVD and offset to the other end by other means

    4) Post the enciphered file somewhere public

    or

    4) Pass the enciphered file by any means

    For the paranoid, use several offsets and XOR all the data streams

    Note, the ability to decipher after using the large data set several times is still lower than the ability to break symetric key

    Even I can write a script to do this!

    1. Buzzword

      Re: Use once pads

      But if you can securely exchange the name of the DVD, then you could just exchange a password; or even the whole thing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Use once pads

      The directors cut ?

      The re-release ?

      The blu-ray ?

      .

      .

      .

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Use once pads

      I posted a similar technique a couple of days ago.

      The beauty of posting the ciphertext to usenet, is that it's totally impossible to track *conversations* (which is what the NSA and PRISM appear to be most interested in).

      To be honest, if I were planning something which I rather the state couldn't find out about, then I would never use any point-to-point communication - history is littered with the brutal executions of people who did (google "Babbington plot"). Posting encrypted/encoded data to usenet is almost perfect. It would even naturally get expired without any suspicion.

      Maybe, my secret is age ... I'm of an age that I helped write some RFCs and worked in IT before the 90s ... I was bought up *knowing* email is insecure by design.

    4. Old Handle

      Re: Use once pads

      That fails to be a one-time pad twice over.

      #1 The key is not random.

      #2 The key is not secret.

      I'm not saying it definitely won't work, whether the NSA would actually be able to figure out that the key to your message was American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (Unrated) is anybody's guess, but if you're not using a truly random key known only to you and the other party and destroying it after use, you can't claim to be using OTP.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hrm

    While the above advice is sound, it only really helps for stuff of moderate interest, if a lot of people are doing it.

    The NSA employ more mathematicians and have more computing power than any other organisation on the planet. They also have some more or less functional quantum computing devices capable of getting around problems like "factoring really big numbers".

    While they don't have the resource to do this to everyone on the planet, if you're high on their priority list, then you're going to find that they have a lot more decryption-fu than a spotty teenager from Riga with a box full of AMD GPUs. The NSA's advice is great, as long as you're not up against someone with the resources of the NSA.

    If you're really trying to hide things from these boys, you need to be a little more imaginative, and switch things up a few levels, using steganography, and yes, old-fashioned physical methods. The measures in the article are great, but really, the suggestion about not using physical mules is wrong. Weirdly, a lot of the Cold War tradecraft suddenly becomes relevant, when you have to regard all electronic comms as compromised. Sure, encrypt the hell out of something, then do data and physical steganography, but don't talk about that on any electronic network, and if possible, have your mules agree to be left somewhat in the dark about specifics too.

    As some belov'd pulp fiction put it:

    "These days, though, you have to be pretty technical before you can even aspire to crudeness."

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've a 300 baud acoustic coupler in the cupboard.

    How prepared and able would the spooks be to intercept them datas?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've a 300 baud acoustic coupler in the cupboard.

      ......... Now I'm warming to the theme. Two dumb mobiles with pay-as-you-go sims, connected acoustically using some esoteric custom protocol, sending the files steganographised into fax noise. It wouldn't be cheap or fast, certainly, but neither is a return flight to Berlin.

      1. Buzzword

        Re: I've a 300 baud acoustic coupler in the cupboard.

        No, that's just security-through-obscurity. It'll work for a short while, until they figure out what you've done, then it's worse than useless because it's still giving you the illusion of security while in fact being wide open.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I've a 300 baud acoustic coupler in the cupboard.

          Acoustic file transfer sent directly from one prepay sim to another, with both sims used only once, would seem to be a relatively discreet and anonymised way to make any connection. But then, anything's more discreet and anonymised than flying into Heathrow with your pockets full of USB drives, which makes me think discreetness wasn't necessarily the goal.

  24. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thoughts

    Never reuse a symmetric key for multiple files; that can make breaking it easier.

    As for giving the NSA (and others) something to chew on, make it a habit of regularly encrypting innocuous files (e.g., pictures of cats, text from wikipedia, recipe of the day, top songs of the day, funny video clips, etc.) and sending them to partners (who are expecting them, don't spam people). For added benefit, encrypt a string of random numbers (Let them try to decrypt that!). If they want encrypted files, well, give them encrypted files, LOTS of encrypted files. ;-)

    Seriously, though, one of the standard spook techniques is to monitor chatter on a communications channel, even if it is encrypted and can't be read. An increase in chatter typically means something is about to happen.

    There are PGP plug-ins for quite a few common e-mail applications. Those can make sending/receiving PGP encrypted e-mails almost as easy as unencrypted e-mail. Use them. Regularly. Even for innocuous e-mail exchanges.

    For the truly paranoid, consider disposable devices. Quite a few low end smart phones are fairly cheaply priced (especially used ones, and especially compared to how much of ones life may be sacrificed if they're caught!), and can be used to connect to the public wifi network, using a public mail server. Use it once, then leave it on a table in Starbucks (after wiping finger prints), so that someone else can pick it up and use it (thus, confusing those who try to do data interception/analysis). And, don't use it to check your regular e-mail account!

    I could go on, but most of this stuff is common sense (which, unfortunately, most common people don't have!).

    Anonymous

    P.S. Yes, I'm sort of a spook (I'm a crypto expert.).

    P.P.S. "Hi guys/gals!"

  26. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    "he may have been stopped even if he was carrying nothing but his phone"

    I don't doubt he would. It seems this was as much about intimidation as a fishing expedition.

  27. DrXym Silver badge

    No need for a mule

    Just establish a VPN to the other end and upload the thing. I assume the Guardian is capable of that.

    And if they had to physically deliver something, put the encrypted files on a micro sd card or DVD and stick it in the post addressed to some intermediate who is unlikely to be watched. I'm sure the Guardian has enough staff that even if the place were under 24 hour surveillance they could get a secretary to post the envelope on their lunch break.

  28. JimmyPage Silver badge
    WTF?

    The whole incident seems more like a danse macabre

    Greenwald and the Guardian arrange for his partner to courier classified information through one of the very countries most affected by it's existence.

    The government of that country detain and seize data storage and associated passwords from the person couriering.

    The government send experts to oversee the destruction of computer equipment at the Guardians offices to "destroy stolen data".

    Like each player is acting out some bizarre ritual ?

  29. John_G

    Another security trick

    If I was trying to keep information secret and thought it was remotely likely I was being watched then there's another trick I'd employ.

    Constantly upload files (say 10MB) to a public file share, ideally at a rate of 1+ per minute. All of them would be filled with random data. Then when you want to upload something heavily encrypt it and include it in one of the files.

    You'd be uploading ~1,440 files a day. The person you are sending them to would try to decrypt every file using their private key and could discard all the fake ones. Anyone snooping would have to force the encryption on every single file to know whether it was fake or not. That means they'd have to attempt to decrypt 525,600 files (the vast majority of which are random data so can't actually be decrypted) in order to see everything you sent during the year.

    - - -

    But the real point here shouldn't be discussing how to avoid this kind of intrusive and abusive behaviour towards journalists but that western governments are rapidly giving up the pretence of allowing any freedom to their citizens.

  30. AJames

    What the spooks are actually after

    I think we're missing the point on what information the spooks are actually after. The favourite tool of police and military intelligence agencies around the world is i2 Analyst Notebook (look it up). It's designed to track associations between people, events, and other things, and to show them in a nice graphical presentation. To some extent the tool drives the intelligence gathering. What it wants is the associations: the contact lists, the meta-data of who contacted who, who was at a common place/event etc.. They don't care so much about the why - they can make up that part for themselves.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Live CD

    Why install the OS on a hard drive? Make your on Live CD with the all necessary tools and voilá! I firmly believe that Miranda was a decoy, for some reason. Returning to Brasil with a stop in the UK?? If the guy had serious stuff with him, he wouldnt be held for nine hours, right now there would be a campaign to "free Miranda" and the British Gov briefing saying that the poor block was carrying plans to build weapons of mass destruction.

    I see it more a move to shame the GHCQ than anything else. And everything that was important as information was on his brain, the conversation with the woman in Germany. After Miranda was detained, a lawyer show up so, no chance for torture.

  32. MyHandle123

    Somewhere, a spy is being paid to go through Glenn Greenwald's trash.

    I say the best way is to create lots and lots of false leads for them. Make a text file and type nothing but gibberish in it. Then print it out and send it through the mail. Do the same with barcodes. Go to one of those make-a-barcode websites and make a bunch of them. Put them together on a page, print them out and mail them. Fun for all! The agents will be forced to scan it, OCR it, then spend hours and hours trying to 'decode' your little gift. Go to a junk shop and buy an old Zip cartridge. I know I still have a box with about ten Zip cartridges in it somewhere. You don't even have to put anything on it. Just carry it through the airport. Then the agents will have to find a Zip drive somewhere to read what turns out to be nothing.

    As far as the real data? Publish in on your blogger.com site. Nobody reads blogger sites.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Make a text file and type nothing but gibberish in it. Then print it out and send it through the mail."

      Virgin Media and several credit card companies have been doing that to me for ages.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Plausible Deniability

    One approach to plausible deniability would be to direct-access write your encrypted data onto the 'free' space of a hard-disk - only you know the start and end sectors. Without a file-pointer, or FAT entry, there is no way the authorities could prove that the data in the 'unused' sectors of your drive are anything more than random bits left over from long-overwritten files.

    1. Rimpel

      Re: Plausible Deniability

      That is essentially what truecrypt does (without your start sector offset), and use truecrypt portable to leave no trace of it on your pc. However you need to be careful about what other data is stored on the rest of the volume, if it has been zero wiped then your data will stick out like a sore thumb. If you haven't encrypted the files then any plaintext will be easily readable and the file headers will still be pretty obvious.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Plausible Deniability

        The volume isn't zero-wiped. The formatting process fills it with random data (that is initialised from user input to increase entropy).

  34. Joe Gurman

    Maybe not Tor

    "The trick, in El Reg's opinion, is to get the data transferred before the spooks put a crack team on you and your mole to swipe the keys or otherwise prevent the leak."

    I'm going to guess that the NSA has a pretty fair idea of all the exit nodes on all the Tor networks on the Net, and that's precisely what they're storing in a good part of the humungous bitbucket in Utah. Of course, YMMV.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But on the bright side

    There won't be any need to expand Heathrow or build a new London airport, now that it's become very public that transit passengers through London have a good chance of being whipped off at random for interrogation as a terrorist.

    I ask you, 60K odd interrogations, 24 arrests (probably considerably fewer convictions) - what kind of success rate is that? 'Intelligence led' my arse? Given the current definition of terrorist offences mean that most of the population are guilty ("having information of use to terrorists" e.g. a London A-Z which shows the location of - gasp - the Houses of Parliament), even random stops should do better than a 1 in 3000 success rate. Stop and search does better than that.

    1. Salts

      Re: But on the bright side

      I noticed the arrest rate to number detained, was, well pretty close to zero on first approximation, I doubt even a government statistician could make these figures look good. Also that was arrests, love to see how many of the 24 where successfully prosecuted and for what.

  36. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Why not send removable media through international express packages?

    As a Glenn Greenwald type communicating with your source/editor, you'd need:

    -public key/private key encryption of removable media (SD or flash drive)

    -tamper detection packaging

    -2-3 people who are trustworthy, and not overtly emotionally close to journalist and editor and don't ask questions on either end to post express packages (assume that journalist/editor are being watched)

    -drop off express packages in public express drop boxes in commercial office buildings/busy street corners. Change express companies often.

    -Drop addresses on either end (use ever-changing mix of business service offices/concierges at hotels, mailbox vendors, workplaces/homes of your trusted helpers, express delivery desks, etc.)

    It would seem that would make things much easier than worrying whether some portion of your internet/network connection is compromised.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Why not send removable media through international express packages?

      "Yet another package with russian dolls for you. Do you collect them?"

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are other more esoteric approaches too

    You can use a secret-sharing scheme to provide security for a document. You take the document, split it up into some number of shares and (somehow: either face to face or over an encrypted channel) get each share to someone you trust. When you set up the scheme, you put in a parameter for the minimum number of shares that need to be assembled in order to recover the secret document. You could instruct the shareholders to keep their shares secret unless/until some condition happens (like reading that you disappeared or died in mysterious circumstances, or that some number of your confederates have gotten into similar trouble, or something like seeing a particular ad in the classified section of the paper). Then so long as there are still sufficient shareholders left, they can get together and reconstruct the document. The real beauty of this scheme is that there's no encryption key, so if you're stopped by UK spooks and forced to hand over your encryption keys, you can't for the shared secret. Granted, they will probably now have your share, which brings them one step closer to recovering the secret, but not without them also stealing shares from your confederates, whom you may not even know.

    Another way to protect communications without using encryption keys (which you may have to surrender under physical coercion or threat of jail) is to use Rivest's Chaffing and Winnowing scheme. Parties agree a hashing scheme and use it to "sign" outgoing packets which are sent in the clear. The receiver then checks the hash value and if it's valid then they add it into the correct place in the communication stream. If the hash doesn't match, they simply drop the packet. The trick with this scheme is that if you're also sending out random junk packets (with checksums that don't match) then it's computationally infeasible for an eavesdropper to figure out which packets are valid parts of the message. Even better, you don't have to actually add the junk packets yourself. If you route the packets through a machine or network that simply adds junk packets to the stream, then messages going through that machine/network effectively make your valid message indistinguishable from junk: you've achieved confidentiality despite not using encryption and sending all your messages in the clear. This sort of algorithm could also be used as part of a store-and-forward anonymising network so that in addition to know knowing what's being said, an attacker doesn't know who's talking at any time, or to whom (just so long as every node is throwing out a bunch of traffic all the time).

    I'm sure that there are plenty of other novel approaches that could be used to safeguard secrets/communications, but I think these two are pretty interesting given that they don't, technically, involve encryption, so there's no "key" that you can be forced to divulge under UK law.

  38. btrower

    Count me among the paranoid

    Re:"the very, very paranoid"

    In 1990 I designed and built a secure access system for one of the Canadian Banks. This was used by senior executives and production IT personnel to log into the MainFrame system housing the banking system. It was in use by approximately 600 people for more than half a decade. The system passed the bank's internal audits as well as external review prior to implementation. It was never breached and we never received even a theoretical attack that would breach it.

    Since that time, I have spent more than two decades continuing on with related research. I believe I could now mount a successful attack on the above system, even though I do not consider myself to be a 'cracker'. Code written by me has been considered sound enough to form part of third party security research and was even at one point part of a purpose-built secure operating system.

    I am, as it goes, one of many, many people with reasonable knowledge and skills about this stuff, but expect I am in the bottom half of security developers generally and certainly the lower bounds of the bottom quartile when it comes to cracking.

    Given a fraction of the resources available to the NSA and other government agencies, I would not trust the system described against even an attack by me, let alone one of the crafty hackers that keeps compromising systems.

    It is profoundly difficult to get a secure end-to-end solution when your adversary is an entity like the NSA. I am near certain, for instance, that the key generation available to people likely has a sufficiently limited effective domain that the NSA could crack keys by brute force on the equipment available to them.

    I am a developer with some knowledge of this stuff. If I were protecting something valuable enough, I would only use code partially written and entirely compiled by myself compiled with a compiler for which I had the source code and for which I used a secure method to compile. Given enough time, I would do this under a custom built OS and given the resources I would do stuff on a custom chip. I would use conventional encryption, but nested different types including variants of my own design. I would use a combination of very large keys.

    Even with the above, I would not give much of a warranty that a communication could not be hacked by a very well armed adversary.

    Maybe I *am* paranoid, but the insistence that small keys are OK when large keys are not much more difficult to implement and the insistence that one layer of encryption is OK when multiple levels are demonstrably more effective and easy to implement and reliance on a single set of encryption types when numerous combinations are simple enough to implement and the favoring of AES, a cipher sponsored by a government known to spy on its own citizens... well, you get the idea. I think the chances that a conventionally blessed solution is not much protection at all.

    Security is somewhat tangential to my work (I get there via compression and fault tolerance) and I am not nearly as clever as some of the people who spend their time designing and cracking systems. This is not false modesty. If I see weaknesses, you can bet that people who spend their time cracking systems have ways around anything conventional.

    1. GoingGoingGone

      Obligatory xkcd

      http://xkcd.com/538/

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Count me among the paranoid

      > and the favoring of AES, a cipher sponsored by a government known to spy on its own citizens

      Yeah, roll your own cipher?

      Therein lies crankosity and madness.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Job half done

    Interesting how many commentards, and implications in the article, assume that state-sponsored spooks have some magic secret sauce with which they can compromise systems apparently at will. They can't, hence, as has been pointed out, they arm themselves with laws that force you to hand over information they want. Don't do their job for them by creating a mystique around their capability. These are just computer and data systems we're discussing, not some alchemical incantation to which only they are initiated. Yes, the spooks may be just as capable as any other person wishing to crack a system, but the threat at a system level is not somehow heightened just because of the term "state".

  40. loneranger

    Encryption is only to keep the kiddie hackers at bay, I'm afraid.

    When you have a nation with massive computing resources, like the US NSA, the KGB, the (British) NSA, whatever, no encryption, no matter how good or strong it is, can withstand brute-force cryptanalysis on that scale for long. At best, your communication will remain a secret for only a period of time until it is finally broken.

    As other posts have noted, they can always just present a court order to get the information, like on Google if you're dumb enough to think your messages are safe on there.

    There was another article on this site just a few days ago that noted the weakness of encryption, so I'm not impressed by the article.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "None of this is relevant though..."

    "...if any link in the electronic chain can be presented with a court order or threatened by the security services to reveal data."

    Precisely.

    Is the following reasoning correct?

    ¤ The only real protection is that the Ministry of Love do not know that you actually *have* any data they are interested in..

    ¤ Once they think you have such data, all the calisthenics (public key, private key, RSA, SHA. steganography, USB sticks etc etc) are irrelevant.

    ¤ For they do not even have to bother to attempt cracking anything of that; they will simply force you to decrypt everything for them (or give them the means to do so themselves.)

    That's the beauty of a "law" which makes any attempt at privacy illegal by definition and per se, once "terrorism" (or an equivalent legal wildcard) is invoked.

    Or is this reasoning flawed?

    (It's a genuine question, I may well be missing something here.)

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "if the spooks had nobbled the maths, one wonders why the cops are so keen to extract decryption keys from suspects (or even perfectly innocent people)... though perhaps that's what they want us to think."

    Why would the spooks share what they can do with the cops? The more people that know, the risk is exponentially higher that it will get out that they can crack it. The cops don't have a security clearance whatsoever unless they are former military and still have an active one.

    The next question is, can you take the spooks advice on how to secure something? Maybe they have a way to crack it and people think it is secure and it really isn't.

  43. This post has been deleted by its author

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    A pox on all their houses.

    Between the left and the right I am getting a case of the red ass at all our governments. All right thinking and self-righteous politicians are wont to deny us our privacy. So, how about we turn the tables on their goat-smelling behinds? That would learn 'em! Let's lift Nancy Pelosi's skirts and see what's under 'em. We'll knock the top off of John McCain's head and see if it isn't empty as it sounds.

  45. bpfh Bronze badge
    Stop

    @Ed 13

    The aerial in Cyprus stopped transmitting that a few years ago IIRC...

  46. This post has been deleted by its author

  47. This post has been deleted by its author

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if Miranda had the passwords , Poitras made an unbelievable mistake

    if Miranda didn't have the passwords , it shows they cracked it without needing it

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Recommendations to use NSA recommended encryption algorithms are an interesting idea, epspecially given that the very people (Guardian Journalists) who have discovered an awful lot about the NSAs capabilities are stating that no journalist should entrust online data transmission methods.

    You might want to reconsider your evaluation of the Guardians behaviour in light of the fact that they currently know more about NSA capabilities than you do, and they've chosen to fly everywhere for face to face meetings, and then think again about the advice you have published here.

  50. jonathanb Silver badge

    Evaluate the real risks

    Encryption will disguise the content of the data. It does not disguise the fact that the data is being transmitted from A to B. If the authorities know who you are, and know that you have stolen data from the NSA or some other TLA, encrypting it isn't actually going to help you at all. They know what the data contains, as it is their data anyway, so whether it is a 400GB blob of apparently random digits, or the entire thing in clear text, it makes no difference. What they want to know is where it is going to, and that is what you need to hide. GnuPG may well be completely uncrackable, but it doesn't matter, because it is hiding the wrong thing.

  51. Andrew Jones 2

    Quantum Computing is demonstrating that science is not very far away from trivially breaking even the strongest available encryption methods - I don't know what resources the NSA have access to - but I'd imagine - if there exists a possibility of breaking any current encryption - they probably have access to it.

    As for storing a VM snapshot on a removable disk.... Words fail me as to how much of an incredibly stupid idea that is - at that point you might as well just be carrying a physical computer.

    I agree with a few commenters above - the best solution is to generate a lot of garbage - encrypted emails, encrypted files etc - BUT - it really requires a concerted effort - a few people doing that will likely just piss of the NSA/GCHQ and you will end up being carted off somewhere for questioning - remember - as far as they are concerned - if you are encrypting stuff - you must be up to no good.

    As the old saying goes "safety in numbers"

    Finally -

    Requesting passwords to encrypted files does not in any way provide any proof that the NSA/CGHQ can or cannot trivially decrypt those files with no passwords.

    If they have the ability to brute force their way in - that's still going to take time, possibly longer than they are allowed to detain you. Having passwords handed to them allows them to quickly evaluate if you are a threat or not, if you don't provide passwords you will be considered a threat and I'm sort of 98% certain - they will get into your files anyway.

  52. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    There's a place for encryption

    But this isn't it.

    So Snowden scoops up some juicy NSA data and routes it to the Guardian. What is critical is to complete the communications unmolested. Not to keep the contents from the NSA/GCHQ. Its their data. They already know the contents.

    For this purpose, the encryption need only be good enough to conceal the transmission until the deed is done. From that point on, its the NSA's choice. Want to know what was in the message? Pick up tomorrow's copy of the paper. Sure, we could have had the editors redact the sensitive bits to prevent some real damage. But if the spooks insist on us handing over the encryption keys, fine. We'll hand them over to the world.

    The best way for Snowden to have handled this is to have posted his acquisitions on well mirrored web sites around the world, encrypted, but only slightly. Too late to stop and practically impossible to determine the intended recipient. Everyone grabs a copy and passes it on to several friends.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're not seeing the big picture

      There are so many potential reasons why one or both parties may want to retain control over who knows, how much they know, and how much they know what you know.

  53. Neoc

    Bollocks

    "Instead, you can freely reveal your public key: it's only good for encrypting stuff. "

    Complete and utter misinformation. Both the public key and the private key can be used to encrypt AND decrypt. The trick to it is that each will only decode what the other has encrypted. So what happens is that you publish your public key in the wild (that's its purpose) and you keep your private key close to your heart (hence the name).

    If Alice wants to encrypt something so that only Bob can read it, Alice encrypts the item using Bob's public key. Since this can only be decrypted by Bob's private key, only Bob can read the contents.

    If Alice wants to sign something to prove she is the one who sent it (and that it hasn't been tampered with), she hashed the message and encrypts the hash with her private key. If Bob wants to check that the message is from Alice and is intact, Bob would use Alice's public key to decrypt the hash and compare it to a new hash of the message; if the hashes are the same, the message has not been tampered with.

    The above is a simplification, blah blah blah, enough compute power will break anything, blah blah blah.

    1. Neoc

      Re: Bollocks

      I got downvoted, which I don't mind... but no reason as to why?

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Bollocks

        " I got downvoted, which I don't mind... but no reason as to why?" There was no reason to down vote what seems a technically quite sound post, so the assumption has to be that someone was upset by your post but couldn't frame an answer that didn't come across as just whining froth. For many here it seems voting has nothing to do with technical content or argument, just socio-political blinkers.

  54. Tufty Squirrel

    It's all a bit irrelevant, really.

    Whether or not the black helicopter crew can decrypt information is largely irrelevant. The fact that they can detect that it is encrypted is enough. Once they know that, rubber hose cryptanalysis is enough.

    There's 2 use cases.

    One is that someone is leaking information that "they" would rather not have out in the wild (Snowden, Manning et al). Once the information is leaked, what they want is to plug the leaks and "deal with" those involved in the leaking. So the whole idea of secrecy is about hiding who you, and your sources, are. Cryptography doesn't help much in that.

    The second is that you are transmitting information that you'd rather nobody knows about. It may be that you're cheating on your significant other, it may be that you're planning a terrorist attack. Here you want to keep the information *and* identities secret - at some point the information must be decrypted, so "they" only need to find one end or the other of the chain and, again, apply rubber hose cryptanalysis methods.

    Once one or more of the identities are known, all bets are off. Decryption may be possible (if expensive), but rubber hoses are cheap and readily available.

    "Don't trust electronic communications" is the only reasonable approach.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re :"detect that it is encrypted"

      Please see above comments or a web source on the topic "plausible deniability".

      I would recommend you try TrueCrypt.

  55. MigMig

    Proper choice of words

    How about we end all these problems through the right use of language, and call things what they really are to avoid misunderstandings. Let's start with the word 'Terrorist', which has strayed so far from its original meaning (Witch) that it can't even be called a euphemism anymore.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Price of Freedom

    It all seems to point to the price we (as whoever we are as we) are ready to pay for freedom. They said that the death of 3000+ people on 9/11 was too much to tolerate, and now we are re-living 1984 every year. I do not know the answers to the question I posit, and having lived in Russia for most of my life, find it both ironic and inspiring to be re-living the same total control of the state over my life. Surprisingly, neither time was the farce. And neither has been a tragedy. There ARE ways around the government, there ARE ways to catch anyone - I think we are all on the wrong track: shaking our balls to the government, the geeks can sometimes win, but sometimes we commit suicide (Aaron Swartz) or just run (Snowden). I think we are fighting the wrong thing and asking the wrong questions altogether. The answer is not the technology, the answer is not in the 256 or 512 bits. The answer is who is paying how much and why.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it really true that the best in the USA cannot crack keys?

    Is it really the case that, given the NSA / associates have identified the most wanted targets in the world, they can't crack simple encyption keys?

    I suppose that key encryption is a good way for most people who expect they have reasonably low or moderate or unknown profiles to the NSA can attempt to keep communications private. The point may be with a lot of people doing it, and with the spy agencies having no reason particularly to single out any persons sending or receiving communications, key encryption works reasonably.

    However, when a highest profile spy agency target encrypts a message with a key, wouldn't it be the case that, remotely, some of the hugest mainframes in the world are shooting the most complex algorithms and biggest processing power at cracking those very keys?

    Just wondering. I'd think that without more complex ways of encryption (and I'm very unknowledgable about it all), the best in the business with the best machines in the business directed at specific targets may be able to crack keys in a short time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Please read more about cryptography

      You might start by re-reading the article which contains information relevant to your speculation.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it really true that the best in the USA cannot crack keys?

      ... I was going to suggest that making your own code, as agreed offline, between recipients may be the best way, so when you digitally encrypt you are not even encrypting stuff that makes sense to anyone.

      However, this still comes under the first thing I posted about. It is a code or system, people agree beforehand something means something else. The mainframes do have programs to crack all kinds of codes, and simple human codes (binary swap code) must be easier to crack by remote computer access than more complex computer encryption.

      The other thing is, all of this points to that you have to be a real expert not to get caught. People like Snowden, who would know so much more than the average joe about how to cover tracks and code and encrypt may get away for a few days or maybe just hours without their online communications being traced and deciphered, and maybe that's all they need and can expect anyway. But should any average joe become targeted, perhaps it's likely the privacy encryption which takes a non-techie a full week to learn how to do can be broken in seconds to minutes if a supercomputer is aiming at it particularly.

      They know the systems of encoding. I'm pretty certain it's a good guess that they've covered all the well known options, so anything that's not complex can be deciphered within minutes.

      Finally, all of this takes more time that anything you want to encode and keep private anyway. Thinking about what an organisation such as The Guardian can do, it may be not a lot. They'll be on their traceable machines a lot, much of what they communicate recorded instantly. They may employ experts to help. But you can bet there are 50 to a few hundred times as many experts in the NSA / British intelligence services who are told their job is to sit there and counteract the newspaper's experts' efforts - which the spy service guys should know the routes of anyway. Or adapt very quickly to.

    3. Peter Fairbrother 1

      Re: Is it really true that the best in the USA cannot crack keys?

      Yes, or at least cryptologists and cryptographers generally think so. And if NSA can crack the ciphers in use today, there are better ciphers which they can't crack - those ciphers aren't used because they are expensive to use, not because they are secret or illegal or less insecure.

      Though in fact, unless you are a real terrorist, it probably doesn't matter whether NSA/GCHQ can crack your codes.

      WOT??? you say???

      Think about it. The only way being able to crack ciphers is useful to the crackers is if some people think you can't crack them, and then those people use the ciphers to send messages whose content they want to keep secret from the crackers.

      So if NSA/GCHQ can in fact crack AES-128 (unlikely) or RSA-1024 (just about possible), they aren't going to tell anyone they can. This includes everybody except maybe the top secret terrorist catchers (or maybe today's Watergate people if you are a cynic), but it most definitely doesn't include the FBI/Police authorities who deal with everyday crimes like drug dealing, kiddy porn, or murder.

      Google "Churchill Coventry ULTRA" for an example of this.

      Now NSA/GCHQ may attack eg hidden services using worms, and get a little upset when people find out how they did it - but if they can crack AES-128 (and again, I don't think they can), they aren't going to expose that capability for anything less than a 9/11 or nuclear attack. And possibly not even then.

  58. Mnot Paranoid
    Joke

    What's the frequency, Julian?

    19966-16783-14664-19975-14664-19975-10345-26678-26678-44235-11142-26678-26678-11142-98443-45775-19975-99999

    K

  59. Shocked Jock

    Encryption via plain English?

    Presumably by "...he may have been stopped..." (and the other inappropriate use of "may") you meant to suggest "he might have been stopped". Is it perhaps reasonsable to ask that the moods of verbs reflect what it intended, so that the readers can distinguish between what was (or might have been) uncertain and what is currently uncertain?

  60. BlindWanderer
    Facepalm

    Just because you compiled it, doesn't mean the code is fine, you have to trust your compiler first. That was the point Ken Thompson made in 84:

    http://www.win.tue.nl/~aeb/linux/hh/thompson/trust.html

  61. Peter Fairbrother 1

    No. This is how an online newspaper should protect sources (and journalists).

    Oh dear. Expecting a source to compile GnuGPG and Truecrypt is daft at best, and injurious to sources at worst. Tor is vulnerable to a global adversary like GCHQ. Hidden services are vulnerable too - they only take one crack to break.

    I suppose if El Reg doesn't know how to protect journalists and sources then the Guardian can't be expected to either, but it really isn't rocket science.

    Start with the paper's website. Use SSL/TLS as default there, with a DH suite like DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA with a 1,536-bit RSA key. That means when people read the paper the communications are encrypted, and the use of a DH suite means that they can't use RIPA to force you to give up the paper's private key.

    Now add random-length cover text - this means that the sizes of files are also obscured, so CGHQ/NSA can't say "that file is 45,678 bytes long, it's the image on page 32". Also add random-length traffic from the reader to the paper.

    Now add a dropbox, and anyone can send files to the paper in encrypted form, so someone who is tapping the internet can't read it, and it's in the midst of a whole lot of other traffic. A dropbox per reporter is good - maybe beside the byline?

    You will probably get lots of rubbish, which is all good cover - you don't have to read it.

    Arrangements for reporters' communications, as opposed to sources or members of the public, are similar.

    A full analysis will be £1,200.

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Black sheep down

    No one can protect Snowden now. He is a marked man and his days are numbered.

  63. Terryih

    A Funny Mess

    Hi,

    You make a number of points that raise question, was the GCHQ acting on American NSA instructions? If the data is on Mr. Miranda coming from Germany then the data is public domain. The GCHQ’s action was legally questionable, how did they know Mr. Miranda was coming in transit and he had such data. Being in transit as Mr. Snowden in Russia is not considered by law as entering a land. As Germany has “opt” out the spy deal with Britain because of the British infringement of German law the information obtain from Germany must be considered as illegally obtained and against German law. The GCHQ has made a president in law that could back-fire on their own interest.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Terryih Re: A Funny Mess

      "....was the GCHQ acting on American NSA instructions?..." Why did they have to be? The UK takes their secret services very seriously, they have even more stringent laws and protections for GCHQ than the US does for the NSA.

      "...If the data is on Mr. Miranda coming from Germany then the data is public domain...." Makes no difference under the Official Secrets Act if the data is stolen and relates to GCHQ.

      "....The GCHQ’s action was legally questionable....".<Sigh> Once again, just because you want it to be illegal does not make it illegal.

      "....how did they know Mr. Miranda was coming in transit....". He will have to have given his passport details when booking the international flight, that data then gets passed to all the countries that he would be traversing. This happens every day under the rules of the Chicago Convention. Please try reading before bleating - Wikipedia is your friend.

      "....and he had such data....." Wow, he was Greenwald's boyfirend, travelling on a ticket paid for by the Guardian, and he was travelling back and forth between Greenwald and his accomplice, Laura Poitras, and you seriously don't see how the authorities could have guessed he was carrying material of interest to the UK secret services? Do you want me to go through that again and maybe draw you a diagram in crayon?

      "....Being in transit as Mr. Snowden in Russia is not considered by law as entering.....". Not at Heathrow. When you get off the jet you are in UK soil and subject to UK law, even if you are transiting.

      "....As Germany has “opt” out the spy deal with Britain because of the British infringement of German law the information obtain from Germany must be considered as illegally obtained and against German law...." HAHAHAHAA! Seriously, you should go into comedy. Ignore what Merkel is preaching for the voters in an election year, the BND are very much in-bed with the NSA, CIA, GCHQ and MI6, and it will be business as usual. Oh, and please explain how the UK police using English laws on English soil with a non-German national is in breach of German laws, just for a laugh.

      "....GCHQ has made a president in law that could back-fire on their own interest." How? What country does Miranda or Greenwald or the Guardian represent that can retaliate? Please do try and think before frothing.

  64. DeathSquid
    Coat

    Bigger isn't always better

    I'd suggest using AES 128 in preference to the article's recommendation of AES 256. There was a related key attack on the latter, first published back in 2009. That doesn't mean that AES 256 is "broken" in a practical sense, but it does raise flags.

    Cryptography is hard. Please seek advice from experts (amongst whom I am not numbered).

    Mine's the one with the encrypted thumbdrive in the pocket.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019