http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/editorial/3845811.htm Sun, Aug. 11, 2002 NEW YORK (AP) - Snoopers on the Internet could decode sensitive e-mail messages simply by tricking recipients into hitting the reply button, computer security researchers warned Monday. The flaw affects software using Pretty Good Privacy, the most popular tool for scrambling e-mail. Researchers at Columbia University and Counterpane Internet Security Inc. found that someone intercepting an encrypted message could descramble it by repackaging the message and passing it on to the recipient. The message would appear as gibberish, possibly prompting the recipient to request a resend. If the recipient includes the original text with that request -- as many people have their configured their software to do automatically when they reply -- the interceptor could then read the original message. Bruce Schneier, Counterpane's chief technology officer, said most people would never dream that security can be compromised simply by returning gibberish. Intercepting a message is trivial using software known as sniffers, and companies may use such programs to monitor employees on its network. An oppressive government may snoop on its citizens if it also controls service providers or other access points. Thus, human rights workers, some FBI agents and even the son of a jailed mobster have used PGP to encrypt messages sent over the Internet and data stored on computers. So powerful is the technology that the U.S. government until 1999 sought to restrict its sale out of fears that criminals, terrorists and foreign nations might use it. Jon Callas, principal author of the OpenPGP standard at the Internet Engineering Task Force, said the vulnerability is serious but very difficult to exploit. And, he said, many PGP software packages compress messages before sending. Researchers found that such compression can sometimes thwart the unauthorized decoding. Nonetheless, an update to the OpenPGP standard was to be released Monday to coincide with the announcement of the flaw. Many developers already have begun to write software fixes, Callas said. In the meantime, Schneier and Callas urged recipients of PGP e-mail to avoid including full text of messages when replying. Schneier and co-researchers Kahil Jallad and Jonathan Katz, who were at Columbia University when they discovered the flaw, identified its possibility about a year ago. The latest paper offered a demonstration of the flaw in practice. The findings come weeks after researchers at eEye Digital Security Inc. discovered that hackers could exploit a programming flaw in companion software -- a plug-in for Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook program -- to attack a user's computer and in some cases, unscramble messages. In neither case does the flaw affect the actual encrypting formulas used to scramble messages. On the Net: Research paper: http://www.counterpane.com/pgp-attack.html PGP site: http://www.pgpi.org - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Aug 12 2002 - 02:56:29 PDT