Dev to El Reg: Making web pages pretty is harder than building crypto

'' secures messages with APIs and 445 lines of JavaScript, so good luck with crypto-cracking laws!

+Comment An Australian computer scientist working in Thailand has offered his contribution to Australia's cryptography debate by creating a public-key crypto demonstrator in less than a day, using public APIs and JavaScript. not a useful encryption implementation (the site itself says as much), but is a useful public education exercise.

By using the WebCryptoAPI, author Dr Peter Kelly has implemented end-to-end crypto in just 445 lines of JavaScript code.

As Kelly writes at GitHub, “Brandis does not implement encryption itself; instead, it relies on the Web Cryptography API provided by your browser, and simply exposes a user interface to this API that enables its use by non-programmers.”

Hence its smallness: the cryptography is already out there, in the form of straightforward calls to public APIs: there's more JavaScript devoted to screen furniture than to generating public and private keys, or encrypting/decrypting the messages.

Dr Peter Kelly's CryptoWebAPI demo,

Dr Kelly's crypto demonstrator

As Kelly told Vulture South: “I spent way more time on [the presentation] than I did on the crypto-using code. Picking a colour scheme took longer than writing the code for generating a public/private key pair.”

Kelly warns visitors to the site not to treat this as a messaging platform: “Brandis is primarily intended as a demonstration; it was put together in less than a day. For real-world usage, we recommend more established software such as GnuPG.”

By the way, if you decide to try, note that its current message size limit is 190 characters. Kelly's investigating why that's so. ®

+Comment: Vulture South notes that kelly's efforts only addresses one part of the debate the Australian government ignited when its Attorney-General George Brandis fired the latest shot in what's being colloquially called “CryptoWars 2”. The other half is device security.

A common critique levelled at those who resist the idea of governments undermining encryption (the so-called “war on mathematics”, highlighted when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unhelpfully quipped that Australia's laws will prevail over he laws of mathematics) is that they've got the wrong end of the stick, because messages could be recovered by means that don't attack encrypted messages in transit, but rather while they're at rest – for example, by recovering messages as stored on devices like iPhones or Androids.

First, it's worth keeping in mind that the government itself drew attention towards strong encryption, with its complaint that singled out specific end-to-end encrypted applications, and its promise to get platform-makers to co-operate (as well as device vendors).

More importantly, however, the argument that an endpoint compromise is okay ignores history. Whether it's the sloppy IoT security let the Mirai botnet hose big servers or the leaked NSA tools that let loose ransomware rampages, or the DNS Changer malware attack that began in 2006, there's ample evidence of the danger posed by insecure endpoints.

“You can't have security if you have insecure endpoints” was first expressed to this writer in the 1990s, and it's still true. We can't redirect concerns about weak cryptography by saying “you can still have strong crypto, if vendors will make weak devices”.

Even the NSA couldn't keep device exploits secret, after all. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Google said to be taking steps to keep political campaign emails out of Gmail spam bin
    Just after Big Tech comes under fire for left and right-leaning message filters

    Google has reportedly asked the US Federal Election Commission for its blessing to exempt political campaign solicitations from spam filtering.

    The elections watchdog declined to confirm receiving the supposed Google filing, obtained by Axios, though a spokesperson said the FEC can be expected to publish an advisory opinion upon review if Google made such a submission.

    Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. If the web giant's alleged plan gets approved, political campaign emails that aren't deemed malicious or illegal will arrive in Gmail users' inboxes with a notice asking recipients to approve continued delivery.

    Continue reading
  • China is trolling rare-earth miners online and the Pentagon isn't happy
    Beijing-linked Dragonbridge flames biz building Texas plant for Uncle Sam

    The US Department of Defense said it's investigating Chinese disinformation campaigns against rare earth mining and processing companies — including one targeting Lynas Rare Earths, which has a $30 million contract with the Pentagon to build a plant in Texas.

    Earlier today, Mandiant published research that analyzed a Beijing-linked influence operation, dubbed Dragonbridge, that used thousands of fake accounts across dozens of social media platforms, including Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, to spread misinformation about rare earth companies seeking to expand production in the US to the detriment of China, which wants to maintain its global dominance in that industry. 

    "The Department of Defense is aware of the recent disinformation campaign, first reported by Mandiant, against Lynas Rare Earth Ltd., a rare earth element firm seeking to establish production capacity in the United States and partner nations, as well as other rare earth mining companies," according to a statement by Uncle Sam. "The department has engaged the relevant interagency stakeholders and partner nations to assist in reviewing the matter.

    Continue reading
  • California's attempt to protect kids online could end adults' internet anonymity
    Websites may be forced to verify ages of visitors unless changes made

    California lawmakers met in Sacramento today to discuss, among other things, proposed legislation to protect children online. The bill, AB2273, known as The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, would require websites to verify the ages of visitors.

    Critics of the legislation contend this requirement threatens the privacy of adults and the ability to use the internet anonymously, in California and likely elsewhere, because of the role the Golden State's tech companies play on the internet.

    "First, the bill pretextually claims to protect children, but it will change the Internet for everyone," said Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University School of Law professor, in a blog post. "In order to determine who is a child, websites and apps will have to authenticate the age of ALL consumers before they can use the service. No one wants this."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022