Monthly Archives: September 2015

RFC: Using video conferencing for GPG key signing events

A thought that I haven’t had a chance to fully consider (so I’m asking the Internet to do that for me)…

I have a geographically-diverse team that uses GPG to provide integrity of their messages.  Usually, a team like this would all huddle together and do a formal key-signing event.  With several large bodies of water separating many of the team members, however, it’s unlikely that we could even make that work.

The alternative I thought of was using a video chat meeting to facilitate the face-to-face gathering and exchange of information.  There are obviously some risks, here, but I wonder if those risks are suitably mitigated through the use of authenticated/encrypted links to the video chat system?  Can anyone point to why this would be a bad idea?

Encryption you don’t control is not a security feature

Catching up on my blog reading, this morning, led me to an article discussing Apple’s iMessage program and, specifically, the encryption it uses and how it’s implemented.  Go ahead and read the article; I’ll wait.

The TL;DR of that article is this: encryption you don’t control is not a security feature.  It’s great that Apple implemented encryption in their messaging software but since the user has no control over the implementation or the keys (especially the key distribution, management, and trust) users shouldn’t expect this type of encryption system to actually protect them.

For Apple, it’s all about UI and making it easy for the user.  In reality, what they’ve done is dumbed down the entire process and forced users to remain ignorant of their own security.  Many users applaud these types of “just make it work and make it pretty” interfaces but at the same time you end up with an uneducated user who doesn’t even realize that their data is at risk.  Honestly, it’s 2015… if you don’t understand information security… well, to quote my friend Larry “when you’re dumb, you suffer”.

Yes, that’s harsh.  But it’s time for people to wake up and take responsibility for their naked pictures or email messages being publicized.  I’m assuming most everyone makes at least a little effort toward physically securing their homes (e.g. locking doors and windows).  Why shouldn’t your data be any less protected?

In comparison, I’ll use Pidgin and OTR as an example of a better way to encrypt messaging systems.  OTR doesn’t use outside mechanisms for handling keys, it clearly displays whether or not a message is simply encrypted (untrusted) or whether you’ve verified the key, and it’s simple to use.

One thing I’ll say about Apple’s iMessage is that it at least starts to fix the problem.  I’d rather have ciphertext being sent across the network than plaintext.  Users just need to understand what the risks are and evaluate whether they are okay with those risks or not.