|By Gilad Parann-Nissany||
|October 21, 2013 03:25 PM EDT||
NSA and Cloud Encryption
The firestorm in the press, driven by the Snowden revelations, keeps growing. As the astonishing leaks get published, we discover that the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) has a full-fledged program in place, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, to tap into Internet communications and get around the encryption that protects data on the internet.
Both laymen and experts are far from calm. The scandal is both a crisis of public trust in the government, and a technical challenge for the security industry. Technology businesses are worried about the possible fall out to trust, adoption and dollar revenues.
So can we live with it, and how?
What can you trust?
The cautious assessment of experts is that the math underlying modern cryptography remains trustworthy. This is important: it means that the techniques, like AES, that underlie the encryption of data on the internet, are good ones. There are speculations to the contrary, but the main verified information is that the NSA gets around these mathematical techniques instead of breaking them directly. Several ways to get around the math:
- Steal the keys – any encryption standard is only as good as the key to the encryption; if the keys are stolen, messages can be deciphered and read
- Influence large corporations to hand over the keys used by their customer base
- Influence large corporations to code back-doors into their implementations of the math, which are then in unwitting use by companies and consumers
Do I really care?
Suppose you do have sensitive data – personal health information, financial data, intellectual property, or personal information of any kind – should you be worried?
The approach taken by the NSA can be likened to a very wide fish net. They try to tap into everything – all of the emails from everyone, all of the instant messages from everyone, all of the online phone calls from everyone, all of the data stored by everyone. After collecting as much as possible, they have software that sifts through these masses of data, and tries to find the things of real interest. This may be an email between terrorists or drug dealers.
This does mean that your personal email was caught by that wide fish net too. It was then discarded as too boring, by the software that sifts through all the data. Problem is, big government really is big, and it seems that the data collected by the NSA is finding its way to many other branches of government. Tax collectors? Local police? Some of this has already been verified (e.g. the IRS) and some of it can be speculated. The NSA may think you are boring, but does the IRS?
The economics of self-knowledge
Know thyself. If you are on a target list by the NSA (or any other big government), then you are worth their time. This means they may spend the time to hack your computers and steal your keys and your data. They may even spend the time to break into your office or home, and bug your computer. If you are on a target list by the NSA – this post is not for you. As I sarcastically suggested in a recent post, your best bet is to get a safe house in Pakistan.
For the rest of us, the key lies in breaking the economics of surveillance. The wide fish net works well, because it makes economic sense – it is very cheap to grab everyone and only later sift through the information. The key to your personal privacy is to raise the cost of grabbing your private data.
This can be achieved in a cost effective way. As mentioned above, the math behind modern encryption is still pretty good. To make use of that fact, you should use an encryption solution built specifically for the cloud, using encryption code that has been extensively reviewed by a large number of people, and you should make sure that the encryption keys are under your control.
One main reason that the NSA approach has been so scarily effective, is that your encryption keys are usually controlled and owned by big cloud providers. The NSA needs to get the keys only from them, and then it can trawl everybody.
If you take back the encryption keys – it is no longer economic for the NSA to net you, because they need to treat you as an individual. That costs too much, given that you are not really interesting for them. Fortunately cloud encryption is evolving in this direction and solutions are emerging that allow you to use the cloud while keeping control of your encryption keys.
The post Living with Spies in the Cloud: Protecting Your Privacy with Cloud Encryption appeared first on Porticor Cloud Security.
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