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[Chat] [MIUI Tech Discussion #11] Do You Think Encrypted Emails Are Really Secure?

  [ Promote]
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00:02, May-26-2018 | From PC
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Hello MIUIers and Mi fans!

     Did you know that an attack called eFail overcomes the protections of encrypted email standards PGP and S/MIME.


     According to a group of German and Belgian researchers who posted their findings on Monday. The weakness could allow a hacker to expose plaintext versions of encrypted messages—a nightmare scenario for users who rely on encrypted email to protect their privacy, security, and safety.The weakness, dubbed eFail, emerges when an attacker who has already managed to intercept your encrypted emails manipulates how the message will process its HTML elements, like images and multimedia styling. When the recipient gets the altered message and their email client—like Outlook or Apple Mail—decrypts it, the email program will also load the external multimedia components through the maliciously altered channel, allowing the attacker to grab the plaintext of the message.


The eFail attack requires hackers to have a high level of access in the first place that, in itself, is difficult to achieve. They need to already be able to intercept encrypted messages, before they begin waylaying messages to alter them. PGP is a classic end-to-end encryption scheme that has been a go-to for secure consumer email since the late 1990s because of the free, open-source standard known as OpenPGP. But the whole point of doing the extra work to keep data encrypted from the time it leaves the sender to the time it displays for the receiver is to reduce the risk of access attacks—even if someone can tap into your encrypted messages, the data will still be unreadable. eFail is an example of these secondary protections failing.

"For people who must use encrypted mail, there's not consensus yet on the best course of action," says Kenn White, director of the Open Crypto Audit Project. "Many people have criticized the EFF guidance, which is basically to stop using encrypted mail. I'm not sure such advice is warranted, or even practical."

Sebastian Schinzel the researcher says "There are currently no reliable fixes for the vulnerability. If you use PGP/GPG or S/MIME for very sensitive communication, you should disable it in your email client for now." The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a similar warning, that "users should arrange for the use of alternative end-to-end secure channels, such as Signal, and temporarily stop sending and especially reading PGP-encrypted email," until there are patches or other mitigations for vulnerable email clients.

The weakness and how to handle it has provoked debate in the cryptography community. At issue: how much of the problem rests with email clients, versus fundamental issues with the PGP and S/MIME ecosystems generally. Some argue that clients should have acted on warning mechanisms like MDC, while others contend that interoperability was prioritized above a known threat for years.


As cryptographers continue to analyze the situation, some note that it should be possible to check encrypted inboxes for evidence of eFail attacks in the wild, by scanning for the suspicious HTML manipulations. And because of this detectability, some, like Dan Guido, CEO of the security firm Trail of Bits, note that the attack might not be so appealing to hackers in practice. "It doesn’t look like the team behind eFail researched possible detections or operational necessities for pulling off successful attacks," he says.

Until user services actually start issuing patches and scanning to see if the attack has been in use over the years, people looking to gain protection from encrypted email should lean on other types of secure communication or continue using encrypted email with knowledge of the risks. Mistakes are going to happen, but users would benefit from more cooperation and less in-fighting within the secure email community.

Do You Think Encrypted emails Are Really Secure?

Read more at Wired
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