Re: Crack in Computer Security Code Raises Red Flag

From: Jon (jonok1_at_webmail.co.za)
Date: 03/17/05


Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 05:42:58 GMT

Could you please give me the source of this information, as it may be pretty
useful to me thanks

Jon
"MrPepper11" <MrPepper11@go.com> wrote in message
news:1110894643.626065.296980@l41g2000cwc.googlegroups.com...
> March 15, 2005
> Crack in Computer Security Code Raises Red Flag
> Obscure but Worrying Flaw Compromises 'Fingerprint' Widely Used on
> Internet
> By CHARLES FORELLE
> Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
>
> With worries about online security already at a high pitch, the
> discovery of a crack in a widely used Internet encryption technique has
> raised another red flag among government agencies and computer-code
> experts.
>
> The technique, called a "hash function," has been used for years by
> Web-site operators to scramble online transmissions containing
> credit-card information, Social Security numbers and other sensitive
> data. Hash functions are at work, for instance, for most of the
> millions of transactions that take place on the Internet every day. The
> system, involving an algorithm, or mathematical formula, was thought to
> be impenetrable.
>
> But last month, a team of researchers from Shandong University in
> eastern China began circulating a draft of a paper showing that a key
> hash function used in state-of-the-art encryption could be less
> resistant to an attack by hackers than had been thought.
>
> Hash functions generate digital fingerprints, or "hashes," of documents
> or data. As with fingerprints, the uniqueness of the hash is what makes
> hash functions a great tool for verifying the authenticity of
> information.
>
> But the Chinese team found different pieces of data that yielded the
> same hash when team members used a hash algorithm called SHA-1 -- and
> their method generated the identical hash far more efficiently than
> experts thought possible. SHA-1 is a federal standard promulgated by
> the National Institute of Standards and Technology and used by the
> government and private sector for handling sensitive information. It is
> thought to be the most widely used hash function, and it is regarded as
> the state of the art.
>
> Cryptographers say exploiting the flaw for malevolent purposes doesn't
> seem practical, even using a lot of computer power. Hash functions are
> also often used in conjunction with other cryptographic techniques,
> which haven't shown any flaws. But if someone were to exploit the
> newfound flaw, the most immediate threat would be to applications
> involving "authentication." A hacker theoretically could set up a dummy
> Web site that appears to have the security credentials of a trusted,
> secure site -- and then steal data that is shipped to this site by
> unsuspecting users.
>
> Despite what are believed to be remote chances of abuse, the discovery
> has set off alarms in the computer-security industry because it
> overturns a bedrock belief about a popular encryption system. "Our
> heads have been spun around," says Jon Callas, chief technology officer
> at encryption supplier PGP Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif. "Everything is
> now topsy-turvy." PGP has begun to replace SHA-1 in its programs.
>
> Another provider of widely used security systems, RSA Security Inc. of
> Bedford, Mass., is doing an inventory of its products to see how they
> use SHA-1 with an eye toward phasing it out. (RSA makes the popular
> SecurID cards used by many companies to ensure that only employees have
> remote access to computer networks.) The National Institute of
> Standards and Technology recommends not using SHA-1 in any new
> applications and is instructing federal agencies to develop plans for
> removing it from existing ones.
>
> The Chinese team hasn't published its paper on SHA-1, but the flaw is
> "real," says Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and chief technology
> officer of Counterpane Internet Security Inc., who has seen a draft of
> the paper. "Academically, this is stunning work."
>
> The Chinese researchers "haven't caused panic yet," says Avi Rubin, a
> computer-security expert at Johns Hopkins University. But "it's
> definitely a wake-up call."
>
> The discovery follows recent research showing flaws in other hash
> functions. And it comes at a time when information-security concerns
> have been sharply heightened by problems not involving hash functions.
>
> Recent breaches at data aggregators ChoicePoint Inc. and Reed Elsevier
> PLC's LexisNexis exposed personal data on more than 100,000 Americans
> to identity thieves. And a poorly designed online system allowed scores
> of business-school applicants earlier this month to view decision
> letters ahead of time.
>
> Hash functions take a piece of data -- anything from an e-mail message
> to a giant database file -- and generate a short string of ones and
> zeros, 160 of them in SHA-1, that functions as the datum's unique
> fingerprint. Nothing else should generate the same "hash," and a person
> in possession of only the hash can't figure out what the e-mail said or
> what the database contained.
>
> Those properties make hash functions well-suited to "authentication" --
> they are used to make sure the Web site to which you send money
> actually belongs to, say, your bank or credit-card company -- not some
> rogue operator out for a scam. Hash-function-based authentication is at
> the core of "digital signatures" used to verify the identity of users
> producing documents or e-mail messages.
>
> Two different chunks of data yielding the same hash is known as a
> "collision," and the Shandong team found the one in SHA-1 far faster
> than thought possible. Their work hasn't shown any instances of a more
> serious flaw that would enable attackers to create duplicating hashes
> for their choice of data.
>
> Burt Kaliski, vice president of research at RSA Security, says
> collisions don't greatly affect many applications of hashing. But it's
> possible, he says, that a person presenting you a document to be signed
> digitally with a hash has secretly created a second document designed
> to "collide" with the first. Then, by signing the first, you're
> unknowingly also signing the second.
>
> Also worrying cryptographers is a stream of recent hash compromises. At
> a conference in August, problems were reported with MD5, widely used to
> ensure integrity of computer data, and other, lesser-used functions.
> And a French researcher threw cold water on the commonly held belief
> that using two hash functions is more secure than using one.
>
> Recent research has also showed that MD4, long known to have problems,
> was so weak that collisions could be found with a few hand calculations
> -- no supercomputer required. A Czech cryptographer using the Chinese
> method claimed this month to have found collisions in MD5 in only eight
> hours on a standard laptop.
>
> Hash functions are perhaps the least well understood cryptographic
> functions, cryptographers say. The functions perform a bunch of math on
> a piece of data, switch the order of some bits, chop the result down to
> a fixed length and spit out the fingerprint. Basically, "you stir it
> all around and hope you can't unstir," says Mr. Schneier.
>
> The National Institute of Standards and Technology says it recommends
> moving to improved variants of SHA-1 that generate a longer hash,
> making it harder to find collisions. The National Security Agency says
> SHA-1 is fine for now, but should be phased out by 2010.
>
> But Mr. Schneier and some other top cryptographers believe federal
> agencies and academic researchers need to develop entirely new flavors
> of harder-to-break hash functions. "All the red flags are up for the
> SHA family," says Arjen K. Lenstra, a researcher at Lucent Technologies
> Inc.'s Bell Labs. "We can no longer trust them."
>
> SHA-1 was based on MD5, which came from MD4. Xiaoyun Wang, the lead
> author of the SHA-1 paper, says her team's method "does not seem to
> apply directly" to the stronger SHA variants. Still, in an e-mail she
> recommends developing "different style algorithms." The small team's
> work has been presented at respected cryptography conferences and its
> hash-function paper, while unpublished, has been reviewed in draft form
> by experts.
>
> Experts say the research weighs particularly on the technology
> underlying secure Web sites. An online-banking site, for example,
> displays a "certificate" of authenticity to a Web browser, which then
> compares it, using hashes, to a third-party certificate repository to
> be sure the site actually belongs to the bank.
>
> Mr. Lenstra and colleagues used the Chinese method to produce two
> different certificates with the same hash -- something that shouldn't
> happen. The certificates aren't for real sites.
>
> =============================================
>