Law in the Internet Society
These are some questions that came to mind after reading "So Much for Savages".

If I understand Professor Moglen's main points in "So Much for Savages" correctly, he is suggesting that an entirely encrypted internet would present an impossibly large (and costly) problem for the government to decipher, which would therefore render fruitless government attempts at deciphering private communications. I know very little about cryptography, but this makes sense based on the linear relationship between the number of encrypted signals and the cost required to decipher them all. What I don't understand is why the government (or anyone) would need to break the encryption for the whole internet in order to break the encryption for any given piece of encrypted information. For example, if the government wanted to determine the contents of an encrypted email message between me and my wife, couldn't it do so be just breaking my encryption? If so, then even if all of the interent were encrypted wouldn't the government still be able to "listen in" on a conversation between any individual that was for whatever reason suspicious? On the flip side, would complete encryption of the internet really prevent theft of financial transaction information, or would it be possible for the thieves to simply focus their encryption-breaking efforts completely on communications from banks?

-- SethLindner - 29 Oct 2009

It is believed to be infeasible to break secure encryption. More precisely, secure encryption algorithms are math problems that are nearly universally believed by mathematicians to be computationally intractable (even with billions of times more resources that the most powerful organizations). It is not the theoretical basis for encryption that is the weakest link. One way that encryption can be broken is through implementation errors that are not part of the mathematical model (e.g. if your computer gets slightly hotter when it is decrypting a 1 as opposed to a 0 bit you could detect that).

But even such implementation errors are insignificant compared to more oblique attacks like social engineering and trojans. Your encryption is only as safe as your keys and the software running on your computer. The most successful attack against encryption is simply to gain access to the victims computer using a trojan or otherwise. This is well within the realm of feasibility of government. And it becomes trivial if they can "convince" a device or operating system manufacturer to provide backdoors for them. If your computer obeys someone else all is lost. A related example is that, although Skype calls are encrypted, Skype will gladly provide means to decrypt those calls to government agencies.

-- ElidedElided - 29 Oct 2009

Here is what I would like to do:

I would like to manufacture the Patriot Phone. It will be a cell phone with an american flag printed on it. It will have a USB plug at the bottom where you insert your PGP key on a USB token, that you keep on your keychain (or perhaps around your neck if you lose your keys a lot). When you place a call, it will look up the public key of whomever you are calling, and encrypt your conversation.

I will purchase advertising time on the Glenn Beck show and sell them by the bushel to his petrified viewers in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. I will give them out for free to those people who never seem to tire of running the WTO protests. I'll buy a batch of banners on firedoglake and give special discounts to anyone who ever gave a penny to Russ Feingold.

Why will I fail?

-- HarryLayman - 03 Nov 2009

> Why will I fail?

Because you have to compute with established entities:

Secondly, people seem to be generally disbelieving that their communication are being monitored and don't care to take precautions about it. E-mail encryption is arguably much easier than telephone and yet no one does it.

-- ElidedElided - 04 Nov 2009

Those are all crap. They all cost $1000-$1500+ (if you can get them to give you a price at all). None of them are interoperable with other brands; you would have to have everyone use phones from a monopoly provider. Several of them feature the weaker A3/A5 encryption that has been broken. To say nothing of the broken links, indicating defunct companies.

Reasons that I thought such a product might not come into being: Overextensive IP protection obtained by teleco monopolists. The need for regulatory approval and regulatory capture by said monopolists.

Do you have any $50-$100 handset phones that use RSA or twofish or ECC based on open source and interoperability? I don't think you do. What people do or do not believe is the province of marketing. Show me a product. This February, when Obama was elected, Glenn Beck et al. made Wal-Marts in every rectangle state in the country sell out of guns and safes, and those things are not cheap.

-- HarryLayman - 04 Nov 2009


I was hoping someone with more technical knowledge than I possess would answer your question, but if an answer has been presented then I'm overlooking it. If there is a clear answer that someone is aware of, I'm interested in hearing it (or being pointed at a link).

Here is the best answer I have so far, Seth. The readings described that encryption of the sorts we're discussing (e.g. public key) can, when used properly, be virtually unbreakable. Or at a minimum expensive to break. So the listener-in's problem is not just that he/she/it cannot crack the whole internet, but that he/she/it cannot crack even individual exchanges when narrowed down to, e.g., you and your wife. So that's part one of my answer: encrypting would be helpful to privacy first and foremost because it can provide some security for individuals.

The second part of the answer I suggest is that the government wants to, presumably, listen in to several suspects in a given case, each one of which involves a costly PK-breaking problem. And the government has many cases containing suspects. So by encrypting the whole net, the overwhelming resource cost of breaking one PK is amplified by the number of PKs they would, practically, need to crack to run the surveillance system. Encrypting the internet would simply cause the significant difficulty of cracking one PK to increase relative to the number of PKs needed to be cracked.

Finally, a related point re: "wouldn't the government still be able to 'listen in' on a conversation between any individual that was for whatever reason suspicious?"

The government, absent other information on you and your wife's communications, has no way to know your conversation is suspicious because it can't read it to flag keywords, etc., until it has broken the encryption. So an additional potential value of PK encryption across a network is that it undermines, in part, screening for what is suspicious. Since the listener has to break all the used encryption to monitor all the messages encrypted, use of encryption significantly decreases the ability to, e.g., screen based on text.

All of this is, of course, unless the oblique attacks Elided mentions have already compromised the computers involved (or other communication device) directly. Herein we may have a problem in the future, because as laptops converge with cell phones (for example, netbooks/iPhones/Black Berries), there is again a risk of trusted computing taking further hold of our communicative devices.

I hope this answer is helpful. I would welcome others' thoughts on the answer if this is not it.

-- BrianS - 05 Nov 2009

I'm not sure if it's computationally possible with current technology, but it is at least theoretically possible (I think) to encrypt every step in the message so that not only could the gov't or national enquirer not read your messages to your wife, but they could not even know that you were talking to her.

You would essentially TRACERT your wife, get the list of computers between the two, and encrypt the message successively with a key belonging to each computer/router in the chain. Thus, you encrypt the message with your ISP's key, and send the message to it. Your ISP decrypts the message, and gets the next step in the chain -- an intermediate router between you and your wife's computer -- and passes along the message, now encrypted with the intermediate router's key. It would turn your communications into a kind of scavenger hunt, wherein each successive recipient only knows who gave it the message and to whom it must give the message next, and nothing about its contents or the ultimate source or destination.

Properly done, the government/evil corporation X/boogeyman wouldn't even know which messages to capture for cryptanalysis. Of course, if they had somehow previously identified you as a Very Dangerous Person, they could tap your lines and collect all your communications and submit them to their underground city of supercomputers in Columbia, Maryland for eventual decryption. However, the list of VDPs would have to be a short one, given the computational resource constraints. They would hopefully have room, say, for Saudi nationals who had taken 100 hours of flying lessons but had indicated that they had no need to learn how to land a plane, but they would probably not have room for everyone who was arrested at the RNC protests in New York in 2004, or everyone who had ever written an inflammatory internet post about abortion doctors or purchased pornography with a credit card.

-- HarryLayman - 05 Nov 2009



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r7 - 05 Nov 2009 - 17:37:27 - HarryLayman
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