Prepare for 'post-crypto world', warns godfather of encryption

Shamir: US quadrupling size of cyber-combat unit for a reason


Cryptography is 'becoming less important' because of state-sponsored malware, according to one of the founding fathers of public-key encryption.

Turing award-winning cryptographer Adi Shamir (the S in RSA) said the whole basis of modern cryptography is under severe strain from attacks on security infrastructure such as the attack on app whitelisting firm Bit9 and problems with certificate authorities such as Turktrust, two recent examples of trends that have been going on for some years.

"I definitely believe cryptography is becoming less important," Shamir said. "Intelligence gathering services around the world are going through a phase shift. In the 19th century if you wanted to know the plans of Napoleon you need a CIA-type agent next to him. In the 20th century if you wanted to know the plans of Hitler during the Second World War you had listen to the communication and break the crypto, this was an NSA-type operation."

In the 21st century these approaches are becoming less useful, with hacking and Advanced Persistent Threat-type attacks featuring spear-phishing and custom malware becoming more important to spies, according to Shamir. The US is quadrupling the size of its cyber-combat unit for a reason, he said.

"In effect, even the most secure locations and most isolated computer systems have been penetrated over the last couple of years by a variety of APTs and other advanced attacks," Shamir said. "We should rethink the question of how we protect ourselves.

"Traditionally the security industry has thought about two lines of defence. The first line was to prevent the insertion of the APT in a computer systems with antivirus and other defences. The second was many companies trying to detect the activity of the APT once it's there. But history has shown us that the APT have survived both of these lines of defence and operate for many years."

Security needs be to rethought along the lines of how it might be possible to protect a system that might be infected by something that might remain undetected. Not everything is lost even if these circumstances, according to Shamir, who argued that any APT would be tightly constrained and unable to extract a large volume of data.

"I want the secret of the Coca-Cola company not to be kept in a tiny file of 1KB, which can be exfiltrated easily by an APT," Shamir said. "I want that file to be 1TB, which can not be exfiltrated. I want many other ideas to be exploited to prevent an APT from operating efficiently. It's a totally different way of thinking about the problem."

Ron Rivest, who teamed up with Shamir to develop the RSA encryption algorithm, asked what could stop the malware from compressing the target data. This led onto a discussion about disguising or obfuscating file names. "Let's hope that confuses the opponents more than it confuses us," Rivest said, to laughs from the audience.

Shamir made his comments during the cryptographers' panel session at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday that also featured Rivest, ICANN's Whitfield Diffie and Stanford University's Dan Boneh. Diffie took issue with Shamir's argument that cryptography is becoming less important - arguing it's like saying that the net is less important in volleyball because the poles keep falling over. "The keys need to be well-supported at either end and that's where we're having the problems," Diffie said, arguing that cryptography remains essential.

Shamir responded: "In the Second World War if you had good crypto protecting your communication you were safe. Today with an APT sitting inside your most secure computer systems, using cryptography isn't going to give you much protection.

"It's very difficult to use cryptography in an effective way if you assume that an APT is watching over the computer system, watching everything that is being done, including the encryption and decryption process."

Shamir's remarks, the infosec equivalent of Paul McCartney saying guitar bands have had their day, can be found in a video recording of the RSA 13 cryptographers' panel session on YouTube here. The debate on whether or not we're moving towards a 'post-cryptography' world runs from between around the 10 and 22 minute marks. A discussion of quantum computing and quantum cryptography that runs for about 10 minutes from the 32 minute mark is also well worth watching.

"We shouldn't worry much about post-quantum cryptography but we should think about post-cryptography security," added Shamir. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Cheers ransomware hits VMware ESXi systems
    Now we can say extortionware has jumped the shark

    Another ransomware strain is targeting VMware ESXi servers, which have been the focus of extortionists and other miscreants in recent months.

    ESXi, a bare-metal hypervisor used by a broad range of organizations throughout the world, has become the target of such ransomware families as LockBit, Hive, and RansomEXX. The ubiquitous use of the technology, and the size of some companies that use it has made it an efficient way for crooks to infect large numbers of virtualized systems and connected devices and equipment, according to researchers with Trend Micro.

    "ESXi is widely used in enterprise settings for server virtualization," Trend Micro noted in a write-up this week. "It is therefore a popular target for ransomware attacks … Compromising ESXi servers has been a scheme used by some notorious cybercriminal groups because it is a means to swiftly spread the ransomware to many devices."

    Continue reading
  • Twitter founder Dorsey beats hasty retweet from the board
    As shareholders sue the social network amid Elon Musk's takeover scramble

    Twitter has officially entered the post-Dorsey age: its founder and two-time CEO's board term expired Wednesday, marking the first time the social media company hasn't had him around in some capacity.

    Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter chief exec in November 2021, and passed the baton to Parag Agrawal while remaining on the board. Now that board term has ended, and Dorsey has stepped down as expected. Agrawal has taken Dorsey's board seat; Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor has assumed the role of Twitter's board chair. 

    In his resignation announcement, Dorsey – who co-founded and is CEO of Block (formerly Square) – said having founders leading the companies they created can be severely limiting for an organization and can serve as a single point of failure. "I believe it's critical a company can stand on its own, free of its founder's influence or direction," Dorsey said. He didn't respond to a request for further comment today. 

    Continue reading
  • Snowflake stock drops as some top customers cut usage
    You might say its valuation is melting away

    IPO darling Snowflake's share price took a beating in an already bearish market for tech stocks after filing weaker than expected financial guidance amid a slowdown in orders from some of its largest customers.

    For its first quarter of fiscal 2023, ended April 30, Snowflake's revenue grew 85 percent year-on-year to $422.4 million. The company made an operating loss of $188.8 million, albeit down from $205.6 million a year ago.

    Although surpassing revenue expectations, the cloud-based data warehousing business saw its valuation tumble 16 percent in extended trading on Wednesday. Its stock price dived from $133 apiece to $117 in after-hours trading, and today is cruising back at $127. That stumble arrived amid a general tech stock sell-off some observers said was overdue.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon investors nuke proposed ethics overhaul and say yes to $212m CEO pay
    Workplace safety, labor organizing, sustainability and, um, wage 'fairness' all struck down in vote

    Amazon CEO Andy Jassy's first shareholder meeting was a rousing success for Amazon leadership and Jassy's bank account. But for activist investors intent on making Amazon more open and transparent, it was nothing short of a disaster.

    While actual voting results haven't been released yet, Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky told Reuters that stock owners voted down fifteen shareholder resolutions addressing topics including workplace safety, labor organizing, sustainability, and pay fairness. Amazon's board recommended voting no on all of the proposals.

    Jassy and the board scored additional victories in the form of shareholder approval for board appointments, executive compensation and a 20-for-1 stock split. Jassy's executive compensation package, which is tied to Amazon stock price and mostly delivered as stock awards over a multi-year period, was $212 million in 2021. 

    Continue reading
  • Confirmed: Broadcom, VMware agree to $61b merger
    Unless anyone out there can make a better offer. Oh, Elon?

    Broadcom has confirmed it intends to acquire VMware in a deal that looks set to be worth $61 billion, if it goes ahead: the agreement provides for a “go-shop” provision under which the virtualization giant may solicit alternative offers.

    Rumors of the proposed merger emerged earlier this week, amid much speculation, but neither of the companies was prepared to comment on the deal before today, when it was disclosed that the boards of directors of both organizations have unanimously approved the agreement.

    Michael Dell and Silver Lake investors, which own just over half of the outstanding shares in VMware between both, have apparently signed support agreements to vote in favor of the transaction, so long as the VMware board continues to recommend the proposed transaction with chip designer Broadcom.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022