[cryptography] can the German government read PGP and ssh traffic?

Thierry Moreau thierry.moreau at connotech.com
Tue Jun 5 09:46:38 EDT 2012

Hi Peter,

Replying on the thinking process, not on the fundamentals at this time 
(we seem to agree on the characteristics of PKC vs else).

Peter Gutmann wrote:
> Thierry Moreau <thierry.moreau at connotech.com> writes:
>> Unless automated SSH sessions are needed (which is a different problem
>> space), the SSH session is directly controlled by a user. Then, the private
>> key is stored encrypted on long term storage (swap space vulnerability
>> remaining, admittedly) and in *plaintext*form*only*momentarily* for SSH
>> handshake computations following a decryption password entered by the user. 
> ...except that a user study a few years back ("Inocilating SSH Against Address
> Harvesting") found that two thirds of all SSH private keys were stored in
> plaintext on disk.  You need to look at what actually happens in practice, not
> what in theory should happen in an ideal world.

Agreeing about the survey findings, if we think towards a solution (or 
some form of improvements), we may focus our attention on the PKC 
characteristics benefiting to the one third of PKC users that are not 
that bad in private key protection.

> In any case though you're completely missing the point of my argument (as did
> the previous poster), which is that a scary number of people follow the
> thinking that "passwords are insecure, PKCs are secure, therefore anything
> that uses PKCs is magically made secure" even when it's quite obviously not
> secure at all.  This is magical thinking, not any kind of reasoned assessment
> of security.

Agreeing that this magical thinking is indeed operative (not only in IT 
security, e.g. a Judge accepting blindly the conclusion of a forensic 
expert irrespective of arguments by the opposing party), the association 
you made with SSH (which is a neat PKC implementation devoid of PKI 
endless complexity) is what triggered my reaction. Would you extend the 
association to PGP usage? Would you extend the association to Lotus 
Notes as another PKC user community ( 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Notes#Security )?

The temptation to consider IT security "a done deal" exists with every 
mechanism, we should also agree on that.

Good IT security solutions based on PKC may exist despite of the 
temptation. I further opine that SSH using PKC may be part of reasonably 
good IT security solutions, and the temptation will still exist.


- Thierry Moreau

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