Trillian Secure IM

Leichter, Jerry leichter_jerrold at
Mon Oct 8 14:48:20 EDT 2007

| > But, opportunistic cryptography is even more fun.  It is 
| > very encouraging to see projects implement cryptography in 
| > limited forms.  A system that uses a primitive form of 
| > encryption is many orders of magnitude more secure than a 
| > system that implements none.
| Primitive form - maybe, weak form - absolutely not. It 
| is actually worse than having no security at all, because 
| it tends to create an _illusion_ of protection. 
This is an old argument.  I used to make it myself.  I even used to
believe it.  Unfortunately, it misses the essential truth:  The choice
is rarely between really strong cryptography and weak cryptography; it's
between weak cryptography and no cryptography at all.  What this
argument assumes is that people really *want* cryptography; that if you
give them nothing, they'll keep on asking for it; but if you give them
something weak, they'll stop asking and things will end there.  But in
point of fact hardly anyone knows enough to actually want cryptography.
Those who know enough will insist on the strong variety whether or not
the weak is available; while the rest will just continue with whatever
they have.

| Which is by the way exactly the case with SecureIM. How 
| hard is it to brute-force 128-bit DH ? My "guesstimate"
| is it's an order of minutes or even seconds, depending
| on CPU resources.
It's much better to analyze this in terms of the cost to the attacker
and the defender.  If the defender assigns relatively low value to his
messages, an attack that costs the attacker more than that low value is
of no interest.  Add in the fact that an attacker may have to break
multiple message streams before he gets to one that's worth anything at

Even something that takes a fraction of a second to decrypt raises the
bar considerably for an attacker who just surfs all conversations,
scanning for something of interest.  It's easy to search for a huge
number of keywords - or even much more complex patterns - in parallel at
multi-megabyte/second speeds with fgrep-like (Aho-Corasick) algorithms.
A little bit of decryption tossed in there changes the calculations

I'm not going to defend the design choices here because I have no idea
what the protocol constraints were, what the attack model was (or even
if anyone actually produced one), what the hardware base was assumed to
be at the time this was designed, etc.  Perhaps it's just dumb design;
perhaps this was the best they could do.  Could it be better?  Of
course.  Is it better to not put a front door on your house because
the only ones permitted for appearance's sake are wood and can be
broken easily?
							-- Jerry

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