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DATE 2013-07-01

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Key: Value:

Key: Value:

MESSAGE
DATE 2013-07-24
FROM Ruben Safir
SUBJECT Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Prying Eyes

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57595202-38/feds-put-heat-on-web-firms-for-master-encryption-keys/



Feds put heat on Web firms for master encryption keys

Whether the FBI and NSA have the legal authority to obtain the master
keys that companies use for Web encryption remains an open question, but
it hasn't stopped the U.S. government from trying.
Declan McCullagh
by Declan McCullagh
July 24, 2013 4:00 AM PDT

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Large Internet companies have resisted the government's demands for
encryption keys requests on the grounds that they go beyond what the law
permits, according to one person who has dealt with these attempts.

Large Internet companies have resisted the government's demands for
encryption keys requests on the grounds that they go beyond what the law
permits, according to one person who has dealt with these attempts.
(Credit: Declan McCullagh)

The U.S. government has attempted to obtain the master encryption keys
that Internet companies use to shield millions of users' private Web
communications from eavesdropping.

These demands for master encryption keys, which have not been disclosed
previously, represent a technological escalation in the clandestine
methods that the FBI and the National Security Agency employ when
conducting electronic surveillance against Internet users.

If the government obtains a company's master encryption key, agents
could decrypt the contents of communications intercepted through a
wiretap or by invoking the potent surveillance authorities of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Web encryption -- which often
appears in a browser with a HTTPS lock icon when enabled -- uses a
technique called SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer.

"The government is definitely demanding SSL keys from providers," said
one person who has responded to government attempts to obtain encryption
keys. The source spoke with CNET on condition of anonymity.

The person said that large Internet companies have resisted the requests
on the grounds that they go beyond what the law permits, but voiced
concern that smaller companies without well-staffed legal departments
might be less willing to put up a fight. "I believe the government is
beating up on the little guys," the person said. "The government's view
is that anything we can think of, we can compel you to do."

A Microsoft spokesperson would not say whether the company has received
such requests from the government. But when asked whether Microsoft
would turn over a master key used for Web encryption or server-to-server
e-mail encryption, the spokesperson replied: "No, we don't, and we can't
see a circumstance in which we would provide it."

Google also declined to disclose whether it had received requests for
encryption keys. But a spokesperson said the company has "never handed
over keys" to the government, and that it carefully reviews each and
every request. "We're sticklers for details -- frequently pushing back
when the requests appear to be fishing expeditions or don't follow the
correct process," the spokesperson said.

Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for Facebook, said that her employer has
not received requests for encryption keys from the U.S. government or
other governments. In response to a question about divulging encryption
keys, Feinberg said: "We have not, and we would fight aggressively
against any request for such information."

Apple, Yahoo, AOL, Verizon, AT&T, Opera Software's Fastmail.fm, Time
Warner Cable, and Comcast declined to respond to queries about whether
they would divulge encryption keys to government agencies.

Encryption used to armor Web communications was largely adopted not
because of fears of NSA surveillance -- but because of the popularity of
open, insecure Wi-Fi networks. The "Wall of Sheep," which highlights
passwords transmitted over networks through unencrypted links, has
become a fixture of computer security conventions, and Internet
companies began adopting SSL in earnest about three years ago.

"The requests are coming because the Internet is very rapidly changing
to an encrypted model," a former Justice Department official said. "SSL
has really impacted the capability of U.S. law enforcement. They're now
going to the ultimate application layer provider."

An FBI spokesman declined to comment, saying the bureau does not
"discuss specific strategies, techniques and tools that we may use."

NSA director Keith Alexander, shown here at a Washington, D.C. event
this month, has said that encrypted data are "virtually
unreadable."

NSA director Keith Alexander, shown here at a Washington, D.C. event
this month, has said that encrypted data are "virtually unreadable."
(Credit: Getty Images)

Top secret NSA documents leaked by former government contractor Edward
Snowden suggest an additional reason to ask for master encryption keys:
they can aid bulk surveillance conducted through the spy agency's fiber
taps.

One of the leaked PRISM slides recommends that NSA analysts collect
communications "upstream" of data centers operated by Apple, Microsoft,
Google, Yahoo, and other Internet companies. That procedure relies on a
FISA order requiring backbone providers to aid in "collection of
communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past."

Mark Klein, who worked as an AT&T technician for over 22 years,
disclosed in 2006 (PDF) that he met with NSA officials and witnessed
domestic Internet traffic being "diverted" through a "splitter cabinet"
to secure room 641A in one of the company's San Francisco facilities.
Only NSA-cleared technicians were allowed to work on equipment in the
SG3 secure room, Klein said, adding that he was told similar fiber taps
existed in other major cities.
Related posts

House narrowly rejects bid to curb NSA domestic surveillance
FISA court renews authority to collect phone records
Town considers licenses for 'drone hunting'
Group of tech giants to demand greater NSA transparency
Man offers NSA-spotting tour on Facebook; police not amused

But an increasing amount of Internet traffic flowing through those fiber
cables is now armored against surveillance using SSL encryption. Google
enabled HTTPS by default for Gmail in 2010, followed soon after by
Microsoft's Hotmail. Facebook enabled encryption by default in 2012.
Yahoo now offers it as an option.

"Strongly encrypted data are virtually unreadable," NSA director Keith
Alexander told (PDF) the Senate earlier this year.

Unless, of course, the NSA can obtain an Internet company's private SSL
key. With a copy of that key, a government agency that intercepts the
contents of encrypted communications has the technical ability to
decrypt and peruse everything it acquires in transit, although actual
policies may be more restrictive.

One exception to that rule relies on a clever bit of mathematics called
perfect forward secrecy. PFS uses temporary individual keys, a different
one for each encrypted Web session, instead of relying on a single
master key. That means even a government agency with the master SSL key
and the ability to passively eavesdrop on the network can't decode
private communications.

Google is the only major Internet company to offer PFS, though Facebook
is preparing to enable it by default.

Even PFS isn't complete proof against surveillance. It's possible to
mount a more advanced attack, sometimes called a man-in-the-middle or
active attack, and decode the contents of the communications.

A Wired article in 2010 disclosed that a company called Packet Forensics
was marketing to government agencies a box that would do precisely that.
(There is no evidence that the NSA performs active attacks as part of
routine surveillance, and even those could be detected in some
circumstances.)

The Packet Forensics brochure said that government agencies would "have
the ability to import a copy of any legitimate key they obtain
(potentially by court order)." It predicted that agents or analysts will
collect their "best evidence while users are lulled into a false sense
of security afforded by Web, e-mail or VOIP encryption."

With a few exceptions, even if communications in transit are encrypted,
Internet companies typically do not encrypt e-mail or files stored in
their data centers. Those remain accessible to law enforcement or the
NSA through legal processes.

Leaked NSA surveillance procedures, authorized by Attorney General Eric
Holder, suggest that intercepted domestic communications are typically
destroyed -- unless they're encrypted. If that's the case, the
procedures say, "retention of all communications that are enciphered" is
permissible.

Valerie Caproni, who was the FBI's general counsel at the time this
file photo was taken, told Congress that the government needs
"individualized solutions" when "individuals who put
encryption on their traffic."

Valerie Caproni, who was the FBI's general counsel at the time this file
photo was taken, told Congress that the government needs "individualized
solutions" when "individuals who put encryption on their traffic."
(Credit: Getty Images)

It's not entirely clear whether federal surveillance law gives the U.S.
government the authority to demand master encryption keys from Internet
companies.

"That's an unanswered question," said Jennifer Granick, director of
civil liberties at Stanford University's Center for Internet and
Society. "We don't know whether you can be compelled to do that or not."

The government has attempted to use subpoenas to request copies of
encryption keys in some cases, according to one person familiar with the
requests. Justice Department guidelines say subpoenas may be used to
obtain information "relevant" to an investigation, unless the request is
"unreasonably burdensome."

"I don't know anyone who would turn it over for a subpoena," said an
attorney who represents Internet companies but has not fielded requests
for encryption keys. Even a wiretap order in a criminal case would be
insufficient, but a FISA order might be a different story, the attorney
said. "I'm sure there's some logic in collecting the haystack."

Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, challenged the notion that current law hands the government
the power to demand master encryption keys. Even with a FISA order for
the private key, Opsahl said, the amount of technical assistance that a
company must provide to the NSA or other federal agencies "has a limit."

Federal and state law enforcement officials have previously said
encrypted communications were beginning to pose an obstacle to lawful
surveillance. Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel at the time,
told a congressional hearing in 2011, according to a transcript:

Encryption is a problem, and it is a problem that we see for certain
providers... For individuals who put encryption on their traffic, we
understand that there would need to be some individualized solutions if
we get a wiretap order for such persons... We are suggesting that if the
provider has the communications in the clear and we have a wiretap
order, that the provider should give us those communications in the
clear.

"One of the biggest problems with compelling the [private key] is it
gives you access to not just the target's communications, but all
communications flowing through the system, which is exceedingly
dangerous," said Stanford's Granick.

Update, 11:40 a.m. PT: Adds additional comments from a Facebook
representative saying the company has not received such requests.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved with
this issue.

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