IamTheRealMike writes: In recent months fake PGP keys have been found for at least two developers on well known crypto projects: Erinn Clark, a Tor developer and Gavin Andresen, the maintainer of Bitcoin. In both cases these PGP keys are used to sign the downloads for popular pieces of crypto software. PGP keys are supposed to be verified through the web of trust, but in practice it's very hard to find a trust path between two strangers on the internet: one reply to Erinn's mail stated that despite there being 30 signatures her key, he couldn't find any trust paths to her. It's also very unclear whether anyone would notice a key substitution attack like this. This leaves three questions: who is doing this, why, and what can be done about it? An obvious candidate would be intelligence agencies, who may be trying to serve certain people with backdoored binaries via their QUANTUMTHEORY man-in-the-middle system. As to what can be done about it, switching from PGP to X.509 code signing would be an obvious candidate. Both Mac and Windows support it, obtaining a forged certificate is much harder than simply uploading a fake PGP key, and whilst X.509 certs can be issued in secret until Google's Certificate Transparency system is fully deployed, finding one would be strong evidence that an issuing CA had been compromised: something that seems plausible but for which we currently lack any evidence. Additionally, bad certificates can be revoked when found whereas beyond making blog posts, not much can be done about the fake PGP keys.
IamTheRealMike writes: Previously on Slashdot, we learned that the popular TrueCrypt disk encryption tool had mysterious origins and security researchers were raising money to audit it, in particular, to verify that the Windows binaries matched the source. But a part of the job just became a lot easier, because Xavier de Carné de Carnavalet, a masters student at Concordia University in Canada has successfully reproduced the binaries produced by the TrueCrypt team from their public sources. He had to install exactly the same compiler toolchain used by the original developers, to the extent of matching the right set of security updates issued by Microsoft. Once he did that, compiling the binary and examining the handful of differences in a binary diffing tool revealed that the executables matched precisely beyond a handful of build timestamps. If there's a backdoor in TrueCrypt, it must therefore be in the source code itself — where hiding it would be a significantly harder proposition. It thus seems likely that TrueCrypt is sound.
IamTheRealMike writes: In the wake of Bruce Schneier's statements that he no longer trusts the constants selected for elliptic curve cryptography, people have started trying to reproduce the process that led to those constants being selected... and found it cannot be done. As background, the most basic standard elliptic curves used for digital signatures and other cryptography are called the SEC random curves (SEC is "Standards for Efficient Cryptography"), a good example being secp256r1. The random numbers in these curve parameters were supposed to be selected via a "verifiably random" process (output of SHA1 on some seed), which is a reasonable way to obtain a nothing up my sleeve number if the input to the hash function is trustworthy, like a small counter or the digits of PI. Unfortunately it turns out the actual inputs used were opaque 256 bit numbers, chosen ad-hoc with no justifications provided. Worse, the curve parameters for SEC were generated by head of elliptic curve research at the NSA — opening the possibility that they were found via a brute force search for a publicly unknown class of weak curves. Although no attack against the selected values are currently known, it's common practice to never use unexplainable magic numbers in cryptography standards, especially when those numbers are being chosen by intelligence agencies. Now that the world received strong confirmation that the much more obscure and less widely used standard Dual_EC_DRBG was in fact an NSA undercover operation, NIST re-opened the confirmed-bad standards for public comment. Unless NIST/the NSA can explain why the random curve seed values are trustworthy, it might be time to re-evaluate all NIST based elliptic curve crypto in general.
IamTheRealMike writes: The BBC reports that "Swedish authorities have cancelled an arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on accusations of rape and molestation. The Swedish Prosecution Authority website said the chief prosecutor had come to the decision that Mr Assange was not suspected of rape." — that was fast!
IamTheRealMike writes: It's been a few months since we last checked in on how the BluRay group were doing in their fight against piracy, so it's time to see how it's going. At the time, a new generation of BD+ programs had stopped both SlySoft AnyDVD HD and the open source effort at Doom9. That was December 13th 2008. At the start of January, SlySoft released an update that could handle the new BD+ programs, meaning that BluRay discs were undecryptable for a period of about three months in total — the same length as SlySofts worst case scenario. The BD+ retaliation was swift but largely ineffective, consisting of a unique program for every BluRay master. Users had to upload log files for every new movie/region to SlySoft, who would then support that unique variant in their next update, usually released a few days later. Despite that, the open source effort never did manage to progress beyond the Winter 2008 programs and is currently stalled completely, thus SlySoft are the only group remaining. This situation remained for several months, but starting around the same time as Paramount joined Fox in licensing BD+ a new set of programs came out which have once again made BluRay discs unrippable. There are currently 19 movies that cannot be decrypted. It appears neither side is unable to decisively gain the upper hand, but one thing seems clear — only full time, for profit professionals are able to consistently beat BD+. Unless SlySoft or a licensed vendor release a BluRay player for Linux it appears the only way to watch BluRay movies on this platform will be to wait for them to become pirateable.
IamTheRealMike writes: Rose George has written a fascinating tour of the sewers of London — rarely seen yet essential to life. But the sewers are in decline, with the last of the flushermen who know their inner workings about to retire. Although some of the work is now done by robots and contractors, can anything replace the experience of the men who roam the tunnels by night destroying fat blockages, searching for leaks and repairing the underground labryrinths below our cities?
IamTheRealMike writes: As one of the worlds most prolific producers of oil, Saudi Arabian production is of vital importance to maintaining our standard of living in the west. A new analysis from Stuart Staniford appears to show large, fast declines in production throughout 2006 that are uncorrelated with price, world events or OPECs own announced production cuts (in fact, no evidence for those cuts occurring is found at all). Given that the apparent steep decline (8%/year) matches the rates seen in other areas where horizontal drilling and water injection were used, and high prices give the Kingdom every incentive to produce, is this the beginning of the end for Saudi oil?