RE: [Full-Disclosure] On PGP (was: Wiretap or Magic Lantern?)

From: Tremaine Lea (
Date: 04/07/04

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    Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2004 12:57:10 -0600

    To assume a gov't agency with the resources of the NSA is unable to read
    PGP/GPG encrypted mail is sheer folly. All discussion to date is based
    around the assumption that you are attempting to brute force an individual
    message in the classical sense of brute force.

    1: encrypted message
    2: attempt brute force until it breaks or you get tired of waiting and give

    The above and classic use of brute force ignores a critical factor. The NSA
    and others have the resources to have cycles spent doing nothing but brute
    force style attacks, and the storage to *store the results*

    The failure thus far has been in throwing out results that didn't match the
    specific message one was attempting to crack. If on the other hand the
    systems are used to brute force and store it's resulting attempts, the
    results that failed for one message may be successful for another, and
    obviate the need to actively crack that specific message at the time it's


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Feher Tamas []
    > Sent: Wednesday, April 07, 2004 9:57 AM
    > To:
    > Subject: [Full-Disclosure] On PGP (was: Wiretap or Magic Lantern?)
    > Hello,
    > >>The terrorsts are not stupid, they use strong encryption
    > and there is
    > >>proof that PGP repels NSA.
    > >
    > >What proof are you referring to?
    > The case of the italian comrades:
    > PGP Encryption Proves Powerful
    > by Philip Willan, IDG News Service, 26 May 2003
    > If the police and FBI can't crack the code, is the technology
    > too strong?
    > Italian police have seized at least two Psion personal
    > digital assistants from members of the Red Brigades terrorist
    > organization. But the major investigative breakthrough they
    > were hoping for as a result of the information contained on
    > the devices has failed to materialize-- thwarted by
    > encryption software used by the left-wing revolutionaries.
    > Failure to crack the code, despite the reported assistance of U.S.
    > Federal Bureau of Investigation computer experts, puts a
    > spotlight on the controversy over the wide availability of
    > powerful encryption tools.
    > The Psion devices were seized on March 2 after a shootout on
    > a train traveling between Rome and Florence, Italian media
    > and sources close to the investigation said. The devices,
    > believed to number two or three, were seized from Nadia
    > Desdemona Lioce and her Red Brigades comrade Mario Galesi,
    > who was killed in the shootout. An Italian police officer was
    > also killed. At least one of the devices contains information
    > protected by encryption software and has been sent for
    > analysis to the FBI facility in Quantico, Virginia, news
    > reports and sources said.
    > The FBI declined to comment on ongoing investigations, and
    > Italian authorities would not reveal details about the
    > information or equipment seized during the shootout.
    > Pretty Good Privacy
    > The software separating the investigators from a potentially
    > invaluable mine of information about the shadowy terrorist
    > group, which destabilized Italy during the 1970s and 1980s
    > and revived its practice of political assassination four
    > years ago after a decade of quiescence, was PGP (Pretty Good
    > Privacy), the Rome daily La Repubblica reported.
    > So far the system has defied all efforts to penetrate it, the
    > paper said.
    > Palm-top devices can only run PGP if they use the Palm OS or
    > Windows CE operating systems, said Phil Zimmermann, who
    > developed the encryption software in the early 1990s. Psion
    > uses its own operating system known as Epoc, but it might
    > still be possible to use PGP as a third party add-on, a
    > spokesperson for the British company said.
    > There is no way that the investigators will succeed in
    > breaking the code with the collaboration of the current
    > manufacturers of PGP, the Palo Alto, California-based PGP,
    > Zimmermann said in a telephone interview.
    > "Does PGP have a back door? The answer is no, it does not,"
    > he said. "If the device is running PGP it will not be
    > possible to break it with cryptanalysis alone."
    > Investigators would need to employ alternative techniques,
    > such as looking at the unused area of memory to see if it
    > contained remnants of plain text that existed before
    > encryption, Zimmermann said.
    > Privacy vs. Security
    > The investigators' failure to penetrate the PDA's encryption
    > provides a good example of what is at stake in the
    > privacy-versus-security debate, which has been given a whole
    > new dimension by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
    > Zimmermann remains convinced that the advantages of PGP,
    > which was originally developed as a human rights project to
    > protect individuals against oppressive governments, outweigh
    > the disadvantages.
    > "I'm sorry that cryptology is such a problematic technology,
    > but there is nothing we can do that will give this technology
    > to everyone without also giving it to the criminals," he
    > said. "PGP is used by every human rights organization in the
    > world. It's something that's used for good. It saves lives."
    > Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union are examples of
    > governments that had killed far more people than all the
    > world's criminals and terrorists combined, Zimmermann said.
    > It was probably technically impossible, Zimmermann said, to
    > develop a system with a back door without running the risk
    > that the key could fall into the hands of a Saddam Hussein or
    > a Slobodan Milosevic, the former heads of Iraq and
    > Yugoslavia, respectively.
    > "A lot of cryptographers wracked their brains in the 1990s
    > trying to devise strategies that would make everyone happy
    > and we just couldn't come up with a scheme for doing it," he said.
    > "I recognize we are having more problems with terrorists now
    > than we did a decade ago. Nonetheless the march of
    > surveillance technology is giving ever increasing power to
    > governments. We need to have some ability for people to try
    > to hide their private lives and get out of the way of the
    > video cameras," he said.
    > More Good Than Harm?
    > Even in the wake of September 11, Zimmermann retains the view
    > that strong cryptography does more good for a democracy than
    > harm. His personal website,, contains
    > letters of appreciation from human rights organizations that
    > have been able to defy intrusion by oppressive governments in
    > Guatemala and Eastern Europe thanks to PGP. One letter
    > describes how the software helped to protect an Albanian
    > Muslim woman who faced an attack by Islamic extremists
    > because she had converted to Christianity.
    > Zimmermann said he had received a letter from a Kosovar man
    > living in Scandinavia describing how the software had helped
    > the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in its struggle against the
    > Serbs. On one occasion, he said, PGP-encrypted communications
    > had helped to coordinate the evacuation of 8,000 civilians
    > trapped by the Serbs in a Kosovo valley. "That could have
    > turned into another mass grave,"
    > Zimmermann said.
    > Italian investigators have been particularly frustrated by
    > their failure to break into the captured Psions because so
    > little is known about the new generation of Red Brigades.
    > Their predecessors left a swathe of blood behind them,
    > assassinating politicians, businessmen, and security
    > officials and terrorizing the population by "knee-capping,"
    > or shooting in the legs, perceived opponents. Since
    > re-emerging from the shadows in 1999 they have shot dead two
    > university professors who advised the government on labor law reform.
    > Cracking the Code
    > Zimmermann is not optimistic about the investigators' chances
    > of success. "The very best encryption available today is out
    > of reach of the very best cryptanalytic methods that are
    > known in the academic world, and it's likely to continue that
    > way," he said.
    > Sources close to the investigation have suggested that they
    > may even have to turn to talented hackers for help in
    > breaking into the seized devices. One of the magistrates
    > coordinating the inquiry laughed at mention of the idea. "I
    > can't say anything about that," he said.
    > The technical difficulty in breaking PGP was described by an
    > expert witness at a trial in the U.S. District Court in
    > Tacoma, Washington, in April 1999. Steven Russelle, a
    > detective with the Portland Police Bureau, was asked to
    > explain what he meant when he said it was not
    > "computationally feasible" to crack the code. "It means that
    > in terms of today's technology and the speed of today's
    > computers, you can't put enough computers together to crack a
    > message of the kind that we've discussed in any sort of
    > reasonable length of time," he told the court.
    > Russelle was asked whether he was talking about a couple of
    > years or longer. "We're talking about millions of years," he replied.
    > [BTW: I read the ring was dismantled later, because one of
    > the GSM mobile phones they used had to be repaired months
    > earlier and the shop owner has preserved the telephone number
    > they gave for notification when the unit is ready. His repair
    > warrantly sticker was found inside the confiscated phone and
    > so the law enforcement contacted him. Parsing the telco's
    > history log for calls to / from that single number revealed
    > almost the entire cell's structure. So make yourself a favour
    > and buy a disposable mobile phone next time! Unless you are
    > an environmental terrorist of course...]
    > Sincerely: Tamas Feher.
    > _______________________________________________
    > Full-Disclosure - We believe in it.
    > Charter:

    Full-Disclosure - We believe in it.

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