back to article Court orders encrypted email biz Tutanota to build a backdoor in user's mailbox, founder says 'this is absurd'

Tutanota has been served with a court order to backdoor its encrypted email service – a situation founder Matthias Pfau described to The Register as "absurd." Our friends at Heise reported auf Deutsch that a court in Germany last month ordered Tutanota to help investigators monitor the contents of a user's encrypted mailbox. …

  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Flame

    I trust police and politicians will lead by example and use encryption that has back doors in it.

    1. veti Silver badge

      And how will that help us, exactly? It just means crooks don't need to bother hacking our data, they can go straight to the motherlode.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That would be an improvement...

      They generally just store confidential information on an unencrypted USB drive and leave it on the train.

    3. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
      Joke

      Did you forget the joke icon?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear Courts. No. Go away.

    What you order is impossible. We have no ability to do it, nobody we're aware of can do it, & every security outlet on the planet worth it's salt says it can't be done. As such we must ignore your order to do the impossible, Sorry. Have a nice day.

    "We DEMAND you install a backdoor!"

    You can demand I flap my arms & fly, be able to breathe pure vacume, or live underwater without a submarine around me, it doesn't change the fact that those things can't be done. You can demand all you want, I still can't fly.

    "And we demand that you redefine pi as 3!"

    Uh huh, nice try. And I demand that you give me a functional spaceship with which I can successfully go galaxy hopping in under a week. What's that, you don't have one & nobody's got one & it's not possible? Too bad. You want backdoors & I want a spaceship. Cough it up or STFU.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

      "You want backdoors & I want a spaceship. Cough it up or STFU."

      Trouble is, one side has the ability to throw the other side in jail. So there's a bit of a power imbalance here, and you need a 'better' argument than "the way our program is currently designed, I cannot do that."

      1. iron Silver badge

        Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

        That argument being it is impossible due to the way mathematics works.

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

          The argument being, put some code in that captures this user's password. There is no need to mathematically break the encryption.

          This is entirely within the power of Tutanota. They just don't want to - for very obvious reasons.

          I have to say though, that this is one of those cases where you almost have a bit of sympathy for (some of) the Police. They're asking for Tutanota to provide data from for a specific, named account, presumably with the correct paperwork. That's no more objectionable than getting a search warrant for premises (the previous ruling from a Regional Court asking for an actual backdoor notwithstanding, which this Court correctly struck down).

          This isn't a self-service backdoor that they can poke into at will, nor a dragnet data feed and it's not entirely unreasonable to expect Tutanota to make reasonable efforts to assist a lawful investigation. Without wishing to invoke "think of the children", if you've got scumbags engaging in serious organised crime - whether that's people trafficking, child abuse, narcotics, or something else then service providers have both a moral and legal obligation to help Police so far as practicably possible, in much the same way as a bank (should) diligently protect your financial data up to the point they're served with a valid warrant.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

            > The argument being, put some code in that captures this user's password. There is no need to mathematically break the encryption.

            > This is entirely within the power of Tutanota. They just don't want to - for very obvious reasons.

            While I don't know how Tutanota has designed their systems, it is entirely possible to confirm one's identity (ie. log in) without transmitting your secret (ie. password) to the server. Diffie-Hellman key exchange is an example of this. Further, it is entirely possible to have a server deliver encrypted data to the browser, and for the browser to decrypt that data client-side. So it is quite possible that Tutanota's servers never see any password, and never see any unencrypted data.

            That said, if the UI is a web page, and since the content of a web-page is determined by the server, then the server could alter the decryption code to also leak either the password or the data itself. However, since this leak would also have to run from the client-side, such a "wire-tap" would likely be fairly easily discoverable by the target - which is probably something neither the police nor the service provider (since it would kill their business) would want to be discovered.

            1. rg287 Silver badge

              Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

              That said, if the UI is a web page, and since the content of a web-page is determined by the server, then the server could alter the decryption code to also leak either the password or the data itself. However, since this leak would also have to run from the client-side, such a "wire-tap" would likely be fairly easily discoverable by the target - which is probably something neither the police nor the service provider (since it would kill their business) would want to be discovered.

              ProtonMail certainly do their decryption in the browser, and I understand the Tutanota approach is along the same principles. Whilst it would indeed be possible for the user to analyse the code and observe the behaviour of the client-side JS, most users won't and don't. They won't be aware that there's a payload in the code that's being delivered today compared with yesterday. Your average criminal using "anonymous" email providers won't have that level of technical capability. Police and Provider would have to judge the risk on a case-by-case basis.

              The payload could even be especially targetted so that it is only delivered to login attempts for that specific account, meaning that third parties (including security researchers) would not be exposed to the malicious code or be able to discern that a user-specific wiretap was being implemented.

              Of course the provenance of evidence would need to be shown in court, so Tutanota's assistance couldn't be hidden. But I suspect a lot of people would have much more sympathy with a company assisting police in a specific and legitimate inquiry compared with allowing Police unfettered access (as the FBI wanted from Lavabit. Ladar of course complied with the court order and turned over the private SSL key, but only after nuking the servers). Notably, Lavabit had complied with at least one routine search warrant in the past, but drew the line at giving up the keys to the kingdom just to get at one user. Users can't expect service providers to be martyrs and do prison time for them.

          2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

            "

            ... have both a moral and legal obligation to help Police so far as practicably possible

            "

            No, a thousand times no. It assumes that all laws are and always will be morally good. You mention the "nasty" things such as people trafficking, child abuse, narcotics (although I'd take issue with the last). But you fail to mention things such as whistle-blowing, revealing state secrets, organising protests, avoiding punitive import duties and many other things that are illegal only because they are inconvenient, embarassing or damaging to the government. You also assume that the government will never enact laws that you would consider to be immoral (and you will never in the future decide that any of our present laws are immoral). Yet history has told us that even democratically elected governments have enacted all sorts of vile laws when things become difficult.

            Do you believe that you have a moral duty to report your friends, neighbours and/or relatives to the police for breaking lockdown rules?

            It also assumes that the police will only ever make use of the facility to fight crime, and would never invent a pretext to use the power to go on a "fishing trip" or be abused by a government to learn confidential information about major companies or political opponents.

            The police in the UK have the power (RIPA section 47) to force a person to decrypt any data they have access to, with up to 5 years in prison should they refuse. So instead of demanding that the service provider decrypt the emails, the police already have the viable alternative of demanding that the person who sent or received the emails do so. This is more than enough power.

            1. rg287 Silver badge

              Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

              But you fail to mention things such as whistle-blowing, revealing state secrets, organising protests, avoiding punitive import duties and many other things that are illegal only because they are inconvenient, embarassing or damaging to the government.

              So what, we just won't bother having laws then?

              This is why we have courts and an independent judiciary. You can't say "Oh well, companies shouldn't help Police investigate crimes because some laws are unjust/politically motivated".

              There is a place for strong encryption, and for whistleblowers (also protected by law in most civilised countries) to be protected. That's why the idea of a company helping Police with a specific warrant signed by a court is not abhorrent. By contrast, providing a datastream for Police/authorities to speculatively poke around or go fishing would be.

              Do you believe that you have a moral duty to report your friends, neighbours and/or relatives to the police for breaking lockdown rules?

              I'm not subject to a warrant requiring me to. I won't go to prison for not reporting them. But if I were culpable... I"m not going to be a martyr for some tit deciding to have 15 people over at Christmas.

              It also assumes that the police will only ever make use of the facility to fight crime, and would never invent a pretext to use the power to go on a "fishing trip" or be abused by a government to learn confidential information about major companies or political opponents.

              It's subject to a court order. This is not Police going on a fishing trip - the independent judiciary have signed off. You cannot ask for better than that.

              The police in the UK have the power (RIPA section 47) to force a person to decrypt any data they have access to, with up to 5 years in prison should they refuse. So instead of demanding that the service provider decrypt the emails, the police already have the viable alternative of demanding that the person who sent or received the emails do so. This is more than enough power.

              Except this is in Germany. But for an equivalent case here, that won't necessarily get them the emails. A defendant may know that the contents of their emails are worth a damn sight more than 5 years in prison. Police might pursue both avenues - and if they have a court order, then that's entirely fair enough.

              I'm in favour of strong encryption and strongly against farcical "backdoors". But I equally don't expect service providers to do time for me if faced with an actual court order backed by a judge (in Europe, none of this nonsense with picking judges and jurisdictions in the US). If it's specific and targetted, such it up. Lavabit did, and so will most orgs.

              1. tiggity Silver badge

                Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

                @rg287

                "This is not Police going on a fishing trip - the independent judiciary have signed off. You cannot ask for better than that."

                Which means sweet FA.

                Look at the spycops history in the UK, in many cases peaceful idealist protest groups persecuted by the state, infiltrated by the police for decades (& ironically the infiltrators trying to stir up illegal behaviour in true agent provocateur style)

                You have a naïve view that all police / state actions are legitimate - as someone who was baton charged by mounted police during the miners strike (fortunately at the time I was young & nimble & avoided getting hit)) I can assume you that's not the case ( note I was not a miner, just a local community member peacefully protesting in solidarity)

                1. rg287 Silver badge

                  Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

                  Look at the spycops history in the UK, in many cases peaceful idealist protest groups persecuted by the state, infiltrated by the police for decades (& ironically the infiltrators trying to stir up illegal behaviour in true agent provocateur style)

                  Illegally so, as it transpires. Why on earth would you conflate such Stasi-like infiltrations with the Police quite transparently seeking a warrant through an independent judiciary? Totally different actions. The former is abhorrent, the latter is how investigations should be done.

                  You have a naïve view that all police / state actions are legitimate

                  I categorically do not, and you could not possibly infer that from anything I have said. Reading isn't that difficult. I have suggested that a Police application for access to data through the proper judicial process is not something to be up in arms about (compared say, with Police asking for Tutanota's TLS keys and just dragnetting all traffic in and out of the service - which would obviously be disproportionate and indefensible).

                  The Police can get a search warrant for your home. They can seize your computers, devices and any paperwork they find. They can - with the right paperwork - apply to your bank for records. Given the nature of digital data storage, it is entirely reasonable that (with proper judicial oversight) they be able to access account data from other businesses on a specific and limited per-account basis.

                  Such access would not include getting a "self-service" backdoor into services, but would include a business (like Tutanota) passing up data about named accounts when served with a lawful court order.

                  Your email provider is not going to go to prison for you, and it is naive to think they might.

                  1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

                    Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

                    "

                    I have suggested that a Police application for access to data through the proper judicial process is not something to be up in arms about (compared say, with Police asking for Tutanota's TLS keys and just dragnetting all traffic in and out of the service - which would obviously be disproportionate and indefensible).

                    "

                    What you fail to appreciate is that applications for judicial warrants are uncontested hearings. There is no representation from the person or company that the warrant will be served upon to forward arguments against its issue.

                    The law enforcement agencies are masters at making up a good argument that contains half-truths, exaggerations, very selective facts and plain outright lies designed to persuade a judge to issue the warrant. Though careful not to say anything that could be proven to be perjury (as opposed to an 'erroneous but honestly held belief').

                    If the police really want a warrant, they will get it. Just claim that it is to stop a terrorist act or a child from being abused, and judges tend to think, "Better safe than sorry".

                    Far better not to pass laws that are easy to abuse.

        2. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

          "That argument being it is impossible due to the way mathematics works."

          That's a terrible argument. That's like answering the question 'why did you shoot that guy?' with 'that's how guns work, the bullet comes out the front'. Another version would be 'where are all the logs of people visiting so we can find out X', and your response would be 'well, I burned everything. So I am not in a position to recover anything, sorry'.

          What mathematics says is that there are certain problems, like discrete log, that are hard to solve but easy to check are correct. Mathematics did not require you to write an e-mail program based on such functions. That was your choice, and if it turns out that your actions are incompatible with lawful warrants, then you have three options:

          1) Change the law,

          2) Change your business,

          3) Go to jail.

          Pick one.

          (Edit: you might want to change your arguments to something involving the need for high-quality encryption in a variety of scenarios, etc. Saying 'maths says no, now go away elected government' is not going to fly.)

          1. fix

            Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

            The problem with your argument there is that the software was already written, and the requested emails encrypted BEFORE the legal request was made.

            Perhaps you should add 4. Jump back in time to meet the NEW legal request.

            1. DavCrav Silver badge

              Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

              "The problem with your argument there is that the software was already written, and the requested emails encrypted BEFORE the legal request was made."

              Really? His e-mail system was written before the concept of lawful intercept of communications warrants was founded in law? And even if the business predates the law, you still have to obey current laws, even if you don't like them.

              So you are looking at 2. Shut down your business. It sucks, but the elected government, or in this case independent judiciary, says your business needs to do X or is illegal. If you cannot fulfil X, liquidate the company, and hope liability does not shift to you personally.

              1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

                Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

                "

                Really? His e-mail system was written before the concept of lawful intercept of communications warrants was founded in law?

                "

                Before the principle of having to store and decrypt messages sent through the system, yes. You can issue as many warrants on BT that you like demanding they give you a copy of a fax that was sent through their system last week, but it will be impossible for them to comply. Despite them having known about lawful interception of communications for many decades.

          2. Electronics'R'Us
            Holmes

            Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

            Let's do a perfectly possible scenario.

            I encrypt a message (to paper) using a one time pad (the only provably secure form of encryption).

            I now securely destroy that one time pad.

            I put this message in an envelope and mail it to a recipient (who may not actually be the final recipient).

            The authorities want to know what it says, but I never memorised the pad key (which is nigh on impossible anyway for any moderately large message and there are other things one can do to muddy the waters even if I could actually tell you the key I was working from - might be an intermediate key as is often done in electronic crypto).

            The mail is intercepted and read, but it is, of course, gibberish without the recipient one time pad. There are ways of knowing when an envelope has been tampered with, incidentally.

            Trying to get that key from a cutout is useless as they will not have the key but they may have been instructed to simply destroy the message if any sign of tampering is found.

            So they have some options, but none that are attractive. In the UK they could demand the keys, of course, but let's put that aside for now.

            Do tell what is actually illegal about that scenario.

            1. pmb00cs

              Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

              You failed to provide the key on being lawfully asked for it.

              You may not be able to do so, but that just means it sucks to be you right now.

              I don't agree with this particular law, but you were in possession of the key, and the unencrypted message, upon being lawfully asked for the unencrypted message you are required to provide it. The cutout would at least have the defence that they never had access to the key or unencrypted message.

              1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

                Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

                No. It is a legal defence to show that you did not have access to the means to decrypt the message *when the police first gave notice that they will or might request it*, and that you cannot reasonably gain access to it now.

                Any more than that would be ludicrous. Many, if not most of us have used passwords in the past that we have long since forgotten. Should the police want to decrypt some old data they found that was protected with that password, you could not assist them no matter what you were to be threatened with.

                1. pmb00cs

                  Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

                  The problem with that legal defence is that it requires you to prove a negative. Now I'm not a laywer, but in the real world proving a negative is *very* difficult.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/kionasmith/2018/02/05/indianas-state-legislature-once-tried-to-legislate-the-value-of-pi/

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

        Yes. And it was standard back-in-the-day for US military trainees for quant courses (eg, navigation for navy and air force, or electronics) to see scrawled on the blackboard as they walked in on their first day: "For the purposes of this course, pi = 3"

        Learning the techniques was crucial, slowing down the training for mere numerical validity was actively a bad idea, and nobody could afford calculators.

        (A separate and necessary additional subject-ette was demonstrating that they could do long-form arithmetic and/or use tables.)

        1. sw guy

          Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

          You remembered me physics problems in high school where wed could have "please assume pi^2 = 10", or "pi^2 = g (gravity acceleration)"

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

            How long ago was that? Back when I was at school, calculators were only just becoming affordable for some kids, they weren't generally allowed in class and certainly not for exams, but we always used 3.142 for Pi in both maths and physics. We were still using log table books.

            1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
              Windows

              Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

              Ditto for the value of Pi in my C&G 224 Electronics servicing.

              Icon - Old Git!

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Dear Courts. No. Go away.

      Dear Courts, yes we will comply with the order and build a backdoor in the users mailboxes - of course we are an encrypted server so the backdoor will be encrypted too. You can email the user for the key if you need it.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    All the people who want exclusive back doors for encryption have to do is tender a contract for the writing of one - payment to be made only when a committee of independent experts confirm it does what it says on the tin. If they think it's possible why haven't they done that?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Perhaps ZITiS could help with this, after all, busting crypto for German plod is their job.

      Then again if they could, why go to court to get this done by the business and basically scare anyone with naughty intentions into using a different system?

      Is this another Lavamail?

  4. ecofeco Silver badge

    Who does all this remind me of?

    Ah yes, the Stasi.

    1. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Re: Who does all this remind me of?

      That's why we're so lucky to live in the US-UK.

      1. localzuk

        Re: Who does all this remind me of?

        Thanks @Claverhouse. My sarcasm detector just exploded.

    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: Who does all this remind me of?

      I think you meant to say the FBI / CIA / NSA / MI5 / MI6 / Met / etc.

  5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Just ask

    the police/spying agencies for some time on their big supercomputers to brute force the key

    About 2 million years should do the trick....

    Then show the judge why he cant unlock the mailbox, because if the police with their resources could decrypt it quietly, they would have done so and without telling anyone..

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Just ask

      Even the LockPickingLawyer won't get into these files!

  6. HildyJ Silver badge
    WTF?

    WTF

    According to the original article (as translated) "The case concerns a blackmail email sent from a Tutanota mailbox to a car supplier."

    Presumably they have to unencrypted email already and more than enough evidence to search the perp's house and seize whatever they find including phones and hard drives.

    This seems like a fishing expedition.

    1. Adelio Bronze badge

      Re: WTF

      so the "encrypted" e-mail has already been sent to someone and read (unencrypted), who must have reported it so why do they need to un-encrypt it again

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: WTF

        Clearly a ransom demand by a blackmailer is NOT encrypted as the target has to be able to read it or at the very least, the victim wouold be sent a key for that specific email. But that ransom demand doesn't identify the blackmailer and likely doesn't lead to any genuine contact details at the email provider either though it does lead to the account. To identify the blackmailer, the cops need to attempt to get more in information. Tracking the IP address(es) accessing the account will probably lead anonymous VPN, possibly multiple layers of VPN and likely a dead end. That leaves trying to find some legal way to access the data in the mailbox or in transit to/from the mailbox.

        The argument really is about whether it can be done at all in this specific instance and if so, what other fallout or collateral damage might occur.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK ePetition already exists to try and stop this sort of thing

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554027

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: UK ePetition already exists to try and stop this sort of thing

      Sadly there is no petition to change the law so only people who respect mathematics and logic can become MPs, and even if there were the current bunch(*) would ignore it.

      (*) Who have the same relationship to logic as I have to Ulaanbaatar - they've heard of it but never been there.

  8. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    Would the following be feasible?

    It might be a nonsense idea but let's assume investigative agencies are given legal authority to do the following, but only after high level judicial review in each case.

    Authority to make a mirror of as much as necessary of the email company's data store and operating software.

    In the mirrored version to disable security checks such as delays between login attempts and limiting number of attempts.

    To circumvent two factor authorisation, if present.

    To subject the borrowed data to intensive password cracking techniques. Also, in light of knowing the exact type of encryption deployed to use the information to narrow down choice of whatever powerful heuristic decryption tools the agency possesses for a frontal assault on the content of the message.

    There is no guarantee of success but with powerful computational facilities, presumably ever growing, and awareness of even hardened criminals being sloppy with passwords the desired result may be obtained.

    Obviously this would be absurd for routine investigations. However, serious terrorism plots and the like may justify the use of resource.

    If this is feasible, it doesn't appear to contradict privacy laws because state agencies already are entitled to attempt breaking into encrypted messages of suspect criminals. Involvement of the email provider under court order does not appear to break new ground either. If in doubt, the legal provision could be kept hidden from scrutiny within loosely worded general legal regulations pertaining to national security etc.

    The option also could hidden from (untrustworthy) legislators who constructed the legal framework from which the provision arises (e.g. by Order in Council in the UK). The email provider could be gagged under terms of the court order to disclose nothing in public. Later no court need hear of the data intrusion because it should after enquiry have provided readily admissible evidence from other sources.

    In Five Eyes nations this is a well trodden pathway to increasing surveillance powers.

  9. DeKrow
    Gimp

    Doth protest too much?

    Only this morning a little-known state agency called the Children's Commissioner published a report demanding end-to-end encryption be backdoored to keep children safe.

    I can only speak for my own experiences here, but I've never been violated or threatened with violation by end-to-end encryption. And if I ever was, I'm not sure I'd even notice.

    What I do know is that Child Protection Agencies, those old-school organisations that use humans to go and visit at-risk children to assess their situations and safety, are so woefully under-funded that any agent of Government purporting to want to "keep children safe" without massively increasing funding to these actual real-world-action agencies, is actively working against the protection and safety of children. They're distracting from the real problem, trying to divert funding and resources into something other than that which will, measurably, keep children safer. It's grossly disturbing.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Doth protest too much?

      You can in fact pretty much take it as read that any "think of the children" type argument is being used to hide the real purpose of a proposal whilst stifling any opposition to it.

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Doth protest too much?

      Why is the children's commissioner worrying about encryption when there are far more relevant things for her to worry about - things that she could actually do something about.

      IMHO it is nothing other than misinformation that she was ordered to utter by someone higher up in the UK government. You know: Trump does not have a monopoly on generating fake news.

  10. David 132 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Golly, I hope he kept record of this...

    FTFA: While angry police workers reportedly threatened to attack Pfau, sending him menacing emails promising to abduct him from his home and throw him into "provisional detention" unless he obeyed their orders

    Well, I hope he kept those emails. Because in a jurisdiction as obsessed with fairness, the rights of the individual, and restricting state over-reach as the EU is (yeah, I'm studiously trying to keep a straight face here) I'd say he has them bang to rights and can now sue them to Hell and back through the famously fair-minded and impartial ECJ.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Golly, I hope he kept record of this...

      to Hell and back

      To Hell I completely agree with, but why bring them back while those demons clearly belong in Hell?

    2. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      Re: Golly, I hope he kept record of this...

      "Achtung, vee iz ze Politzei und vee haf gifen you ze orderz und you MUZT OBEY!" My apologies to any Germans on here for the racist stereotype portrayed there, but this does sound very much like some people in the Police are looking back to the days of the SS & Stazi with fondness.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Golly, I hope he kept record of this...

        More SD (Sicherheitsdienst) than SS (Schutzstaffel, protection detail, of which a part -Totenkopfverband- later derailed and tainted the whole organisation).

    3. navidier

      Re: Golly, I hope he kept record of this...

      > Well, I hope he kept those emails. Because in a jurisdiction as obsessed with fairness, the rights of the

      > individual, and restricting state over-reach as the EU is (yeah, I'm studiously trying to keep a straight

      > face here) I'd say he has them bang to rights and can now sue them to Hell and back through the

      > famously fair-minded and impartial ECJ.

      Problem is, Norway is not a member of the EU, so any mention of Hell is invalid in this context.

      And yes, I have been to Hell (and back) and have a photo of myself near the rail station with a sign in the background, "Gods Spedition"!

  11. redpola

    “ Only this morning a little-known state agency called the Children's Commissioner published a report demanding end-to-end encryption be backdoored to keep children safe.”

    Actually, the report recommends strict age checking by messaging service providers and switching off end-to-end encryption for those they seek to protect (children). In essence they want to remove the privacy of children to protect them from paedophiles, which sounds a lot less extreme to me than the register’s rather inaccurate summing up.

    1. CrackedNoggin

      On the other hand, by removing auto-encryption, it opens up the possibility of unauthorized 3rd parties listening in, looking a private pictures, getting to know personal details, and abusing those details to gain trust and execute abuse. And then there is simply the problem of big data gobbling up childrens data [ https://www.theregister.com/2019/09/04/google_ftc_fine/ ].

      What would work for a parent/guardian is getting cc'd on all mail to and from a child.

      Because turning off encryption for children is such bad idea and cc'ing a parent such an obvious and good one, I wonder about the intelligence and/or motivations behind your proposal. "Foot in the door"?

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        CC'ing a parent is a spectacularly bad idea.

        You may be too young but I remember the introduction of ChildLine (oh, the pain it caused those of us working in telecoms at the time - ranging from unusual number length, through to making sure it got left off the bill - we had to make specific changes to an IN system we were working on at the time to allow for it).

        My understanding is that, despite what the tabloids would have you believe, the biggest danger to children is from people they know, primarily their family.

    2. DrewWyatt

      The report recommends far more than that.

      Reading the report, I can see that it recommends more than that.

      In the encryption section, their first test is that new software doesn't make children more vulnerable. That is actually a tough ask, as not only are you are asking for the platforms to prove a negative in advance, you are asking them to certify their code works as expected, and is 100% bug free with no unintended side effects.

      The second test is that all children's accounts have e2e disabled, unless you can prove the unprovable above. That will mean any group chat with a child in it will need to be unencrypted, as you can't do e2e on only one end. So no need for surveillance to break the encryption, just have the police sign up with a child account and join the group!

      In the Government and regulators section it states that if these conditions are not met, then the platform should be regarded as breaching the duty of care.

      In the online harm section it says that those that breach the duty of trust should face GDPR style massive fines, management liability and ISP blocking. That is a pretty big stick to wave.

  12. Zarno Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Said before, will say again.

    May as well backdoor the encryption on the politicians bank accounts and other services, and wait to see how quick the backpedaling starts.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Said before, will say again.

      Not as well, better. And make completion of it a requisite starting point to continue with others.

  13. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Abusing backdoors?

    Naughty people

  14. theOtherJT

    And they're going to do what about me doing this?

    echo "Not this bullshit again" | openssl enc -aes-256-cbc -iter 10000 -e -k <password>

    Do we make maths illegal next, is that the plan? God I hate this one so much.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: And they're going to do what about me doing this?

      No, only math where π happens to be unequal to 3.0000000 ;)

    2. reGOTCHA
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: And they're going to do what about me doing this?

      Don't be so dismissive.

      The same 'they' did to TrueCrypt, and at least attempted at Veracrypt, for example.

      Targeted attacks, confusion and disinformation can amount to such a level that at a certain point you just have to trust the software.

      Was openssl ever audited?

      Can you trust all parties involved in the audit? To what extend?

      What was the scope of the audit? Core libs or GUI code?

      Which version do you use? Before of after the audit?

      Do you get a compiled binary and you verify the hash if there is one?

      Or you build from source because you don't trust the available binaries or no hash available?

      Does it use OS libs or it's 100% self-contained? If not, ask the same questions about those libs too...

      But wait, there's more! (imagine the guy in the TV commercial)

      Encryption software was once subject to export restrictions just like weapons and ammunition.

      Which version you have? the export ready or the other one?

      What OS are you running those binaries on?

      What firmware is below that OS?

      On what hardware are you running that firmware?

      It gets very tricky very fast. In the end it's just about how high is your trust bar and how much effort are you willing to put into it, but be reminded that most of the planet has much lower bar.

      If only you in your family/friends/work circle accept and know how to use openssl, what is the use of it for you?

      All of this trust chain is being attacked constantly, the only thing in our side is that governments don't have infinite resources and they have bigger problems.

      In an extremis careless scenario, only a few thousand netizens kind of trust something they build but it's complex to use, while most of the world trusts something else that is easy to use, but can very well be a 'fit for export' software. Think of how easy it could be for a North Korean to get their hands on hardware and software that would allow him to send you a message that only the two of you can read.

      It's fine if you don't make this your life battle, I don't either, but don't be so dismissive about it.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: And they're going to do what about me doing this?

        Or you build from source because you don't trust the available binaries or no hash available?

        How do you know you can trust the compiler?

  15. Vimes

    It's interesting that those claiming to act 'for the children' in demanding that unworkable limits be placed on encryption never seem to consider the possibility that children should not be allowed access to that technology in the first place, and when it comes to 'big tech' always omit the phone companies from their calls for greater regulation, despite the spread of child abuse only being impossible from mobile devices if the phone companies are there to sell them the devices to begin with.

    If something is dangerous for children then generally society limits or stops access to that thing for children, yet when it comes to phones the authorities are quite happy to see the camera enabled devices sold to children despite the capacity for them to be abused.

    Another interesting omission with regards to two words the likes of the commissioner never mentions: parental responsibility. Yes the technology can be a headache for parents to understand and control but if they can't do this then how can they justify handing something that could potentially do great harm to their children because of their lack of understanding?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Yes the technology can be a headache for parents to understand and control"

      It really shouldn't be. Parents of young children are most likely to be early 30's at most, possibly younger and so also grew up with this technology.

      1. Vimes

        I'd agree with that, but it's still one of the excuses that gets an airing each time this sort of thing is discussed.

      2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        It really shouldn't be. Parents of young children are most likely to be early 30's at most, possibly younger and so also grew up with this technology.

        O? I was 45 when my first child was born.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          And aged 50+, how many of the other parents at the school gate were in the same age group as you? :-p

          I was careful to say "most likely to be early 30's" :-)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't bother banning backdoors......

    ......because you will NEVER KNOW whether or not they have been implemented (it's you I'm thinking about Cisco, Jupiter....).

    *

    Just use a private cipher BEFORE YOUR MESSAGE enters ANY public channel. So the snoops get to extract this sort of thing from their spiffy, court-ordered backdoor:

    *

    1DH903Uu0W2G0WVU14Zm1WXI0Jtf18oU0MXQ0oHy

    0VrT0Nyi16XY1m5J0lKO1U=X0$vI1m6f0SMv12Sc

    0B730e2R1HA81k070rAQ1Ofc1b380s8D0IUd0aVp

    08F50G$i1mr30MAT0Lau17v=05rb0iFh1S0f1K9u

    0h2A0iI605qn0XFj0rRH120p1kW51Za71LvN1ES8

    1TqU1ht50DGL0u=D1MiZ0kAW1Rss0h1609qS0bzs

    0rjI0fYJ0nm01E9b1ROR0L4f1bDQ1g$600NU0jAF

    0=2k020j0PGU1mOR0mqt04P10l5m1Q850Yvi04SA

    1eXt14IY06BV053j1h890Zvz0mVe12x10yPq0s8e

    04Sk03u91b88042C1KwI1hcX0WGh1cQy19qu

    *

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't bother banning backdoors......

      Of course the private ciphers are morphing too. The one posted by AC was version one, which has a decidedly numeric look. Version two has replaced the output with something of a pseudo-random look and feel. This sort of evolution keeps programmers in a job.....and keeps the users of backdoors on their toes!! Enjoy!!

      *

      u5gxUBAHC32luxmrYNCpg1cFOFQJ29aD6505uxoB

      MlcvcBCBUBC3qvyVCHuxYlCfanIduhSNYlCpanIp

      m3MxgTE1GpkFCHmxaJqxuzgPoNq90xUlYlEdanKL

      YHitYlEnanKTu5mLEzQNg9mbYzobUTknu5mdoxel

      YlGBanMDuhUpYlGLanMLuxsbMDm7w3YPUBGRuxu3

      GpoNEzSr4piNOFW301MlKbs52R8Tg9q927aD4Dyl

      6paRYlIPanOdOHKFYlIXanOpyVMXUToLYlInanQ7

      uhYZYlIvanQL

      *

  17. terrythetech

    And yet the petition to UK gov about this very thing has less than 1000 signatures

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554027

  18. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    Mushroom

    An idle musing

    What if a company's contract with its customers explicitly said the company would supply a secure encrypted facility without back doors, and that any failure by the company to provide this would automatically lead to the company ceasing service immediately, and that not doing so meant that every customer was entitled to £1 million compensation, thus bankrupting the company so it couldn't continue? How would the courts deal with that?

    I'm inspired by Peter Watts' Scorched-Earth Society. (Warning: PDF)

    1. reGOTCHA
      Happy

      Re: An idle musing

      Thank you for the link, from that link I found hours - if not days - of fun material to read instead of working.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An idle musing

      > How would the courts deal with that?

      Simple. They'd issue a secrecy order and then it's your problem: break the contract or break the secrecy order.

      1. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: An idle musing

        Simple. They'd issue a secrecy order and then it's your problem: break the contract or break the secrecy order.

        And you'd break the contract, because your customer probably isn't paying you enough to go to jail for them.

        Moreover, the courts would back you if your client tried to sue for breach of contract. They would happily nullify that clause given that you had been compelled by law.

        It's about the same as someone telling a judge "I can't tell you that, Official Secrets" - if you're doing it to be vexatious, the judge will tell you to spill or face Contempt charges.

        No court will pass an OSA conviction on someone who was compelled to disclose by another court.

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