Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

Researchers warn of critical flaw affecting PGP and S/MIME

Computer encryption Uninstall PGP: EFF warns of exploit that may reveal plaintext of encrypted emails
Frank Williams | 14 May, 2018, 18:13

In a website devoted to the issues, which the researchers called eFail, they said the attacks exploit problems with the OpenPGP and S/MIME standards and can expose the plaintext of encrypted emails. It's narrated by Sebastian Schinzel, a professor of computer security at Münster University of Applied Sciences and one of the authors of the paper. "There are now no reliable fixes for the vulnerability", he added.

EFF, the world's biggest digital rights group, which has seen the details, says that such a vulnerability is an "immediate risk to those using these tools for email communication, including the potential exposure of the contents of past messages".

The EFF has issued detailed tutorials on how to disable PGP encryption in the major email clients such as Outlook and Apple Mail. "Having used PGP since 1993, this sounds baaad". "We use CBC/CFB gadgets to inject malicious plaintext snippets into encrypted emails that abuse existing and standard-conforming backchannels, for example, in HTML, CSS, or x509 functionality, to exfiltrate the full plaintext after decryption".

The Electronic Frontier Foundation -which researchers contacted to help them broadcast their message to a broader audience- has published tutorials on how to disable email encryption plugins.

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If you use Thunderbird with Enigmail, Apple Mail with GPGTools or Outlook with Gpg4win the EFF has step-by-step tutorials to temporarily disable their PGP plug-ins. It's this variety that attackers use to ambush users of OpenPGP and S/Mime by sending a slightly modified S/Mime email to the victim's address. Werner Koch of GnuPG, a popular provider of GPG encryption, said the vulnerability was not in the encryption protocols, but rather, in the email clients used to decrypt them. The importance of email encryption went mainstream after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the USA government's electronic surveillance in 2013.

To exploit the weakness, a hacker would need to have access to an email server or the mailbox of a recipient.

Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) admitted that the findings constituted "a serious security breach".

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