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Editorial Encryption

Encryption? What Encryption? 500

Posted by Soulskill
from the these-are-not-the-files-you're-looking-for dept.
Slashdot regular Bennett Haselton writes with his take on the news we discussed early this morning about the UK government's prosecution of two people who refused to disclose their encryption keys: "Is it possible to write a program that enables you to encrypt files without drawing suspicion upon yourself if anyone ever seizes your computer? No; a program by itself, no matter how perfectly written, couldn't do this because you'd still attract suspicion just for possessing the software. You'd need a social element driving the program's popularity until it gets to the point where people no longer look suspicious just for having the program installed. Here are some theories on how that could happen — but it would be a high bar to clear." Hit the link below for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.

Police in Britain have announced that two people have successfully been prosecuted under a UK law that forces defendants to give up their encryption keys and penalizes those who don't comply. Another UK woman's case had attracted attention two years ago, when the government demanded she give up her encryption keys after the police found encryption software on her computer, but the police say she was not one of the two defendant's charged. Is there a software solution to this problem — a way that people can encrypt files on their computers, without arousing the suspicion of law enforcement if the computers are seized?

File encryption, if properly implemented, is generally considered mathematically unbreakable. But to prevent suspicion falling on people just for encrypting files in the first place, requires a human solution as well as an engineering one. One way or another, some file encryption software would have to be in widespread use that has these two properties: (1) it's deployed on a large number of people's machines — not just a large absolute number, but a significant proportion of the total population, so that suspicion does not fall on people just for possessing the software — and (2) it should not be possible to tell the difference between machines where the users use the software regularly, and machines where the software has never been run. Then, and only then, would it be possible to use the encryption software on your machine, without anyone who seizes the machine having reason to think that you had ever encrypted anything at all.

(Of course, in a relatively free society, if law enforcement has probable cause to seize your machine in the first place, then they would presumably already have some evidence against you. But this would at least prevent police officers and judges from becoming more suspicious as a result of encryption software being present on your machine.)

Note that this is similar to the kind of problem that is normally solved with steganography, but by my reasoning, I don't think that using stego would actually gain anything in this situation. Whether you're talking about encryption software or stego software, if it's a program that not a lot of people have installed, then just by virtue of having it on your machine, you'll attract suspicion if your machine is seized. On the other hand, suppose you've cleared that hurdle and the software is installed on a lot of people's computers, so that just having installed it is not by itself grounds for suspicion. If it's stego, then you can embed the hidden data inside other images or videos, so that an intruder can't tell whether you've been using the software to hide anything (assuming the stego software is good enough that the intruder can't tell the images have been tampered with). But you could achieve the same thing with straight encryption software: just have every installation of the program create a "storage volume" file, where encrypted files will be stored. As long as a storage volume file with files embedded in it, is indistinguishable from a storage volume file that has never been touched, the presence of the storage volume file won't give you away.

I'm not actually aware of any encryption program that has that property: that for a given machine with the software installed, it's impossible to tell whether the software has ever been used to encrypt data. This is probably because this would normally not be a useful feature of an encryption program. The whole point of making it impossible to tell whether someone has used the program or not, is that people who have used the program would not attract undue attention to themselves as a result. But if the encryption program is only used by one thousandth of one percent of total Internet users anyway, then just the fact that a user has the program installed, would be enough to draw suspicion to the user if their computer is seized, so there's no benefit to concealing the fact that the program has been used. On the other hand, if the encryption program is installed on a significant proportion of users' machines anyway, then simply having the program installed is no longer grounds for suspicion. And that's when it would become a valuable feature for it to be difficult to tell whether the owner of the machine actually uses the encryption program or not.

This may be hard to implement correctly, and there are some tradeoffs that will have to be decided. For example, if the program creates a default "storage volume" file when it's installed, how big should that initial volume be? The problem with creating a small storage file initially and then letting it grow as encrypted files are added, is that this now makes it easy to tell who is using the program and who isn't — anyone whose storage file has grown beyond the default size, is using it to encrypt files (and is therefore a terrorist movie-downloading child pornographer, etc.). In order to avoid suspicion falling on people who use the program, the storage file would have to be the same size on everyone's computer. If you make it 1 GB, that wastes a lot of space on people's machines who aren't using it. On the other hand, if it's only 1 GB, it also means that users will only be able to store up to 1 GB of encrypted data — any more than that, and they'll have to expand the size of the storage file, thus calling attention to themselves if the machine is ever seized. And then, what about the fact that a large file which is created all at once, is normally not fragmented very much, but if the storage file is frequently modified, it is likely to become more and more fragmented — thus giving people a way to tell if the encryption program is being used frequently. (So you'd either have to deliberately create a very fragmented storage file by default on the first install, or create an unfragmented file on first install but then make sure to read and write from the file in a way that doesn't fragment it further.) I don't want to get too bogged down in implementation details. The point is just that you'd have to block all the possible ways that an intruder would be able to tell whether the software is used frequently — forget one thing, and you've given an intruder a way to identify people who are actually using the software to encrypt files.

A program called TrueCrypt achieves something close to this — TrueCrypt allows you to encrypt a storage volume with two different passwords, so that one password provides access to "innocent-looking" data, while the other password provides access to the data that you really want to keep secure. If someone is compelled to give up their password, they could provide only the password that unlocks the "innocent-looking" data — and there's no way, from examining the encrypted file, to tell that there is a second password guarding even-more secret data. (Of course, the "innocent-looking" data can't be truly innocent-looking, because it has to look like the kind of thing that someone would believe you might want to encrypt — so it should look suspicious enough that you would genuinely want to hide it, but not bad enough to get you in real trouble if you're forced to reveal it!) The Achilles heel of this scheme is that just having TrueCrypt on your computer in the first place, would at least signal to an intruder that you're encrypting files. And even if they can't prove that you might have another "super-secret password" guarding more private data on your encrypted volume, they would certainly suspect it, if they already had grounds to be investigating you and if they knew anything about how TrueCrypt works. To provide true plausible deniability of any encryption at all, you need a program that already exists on lots of people's machines, so that an intruder doesn't suspect anything when they find it on your computer.

(The same objection also applies to many other non-solutions to the problem, like using a Linux distro that encrypts your entire file system. Even assuming this would be within the technical means of the average person who wanted to do encryption, it's still going to look suspicious as long as the vast majority of people are not doing it.)

Which leads to the other half of the problem, which is getting the software widely deployed enough that it would not look suspicious for someone to have the program installed in the first place. Best of all for the purpose of avoiding suspicion, of course, would be for the program to come installed by default with a popular operating system. Windows XP and Vista have the built-in ability to encrypt folders, but anyone who seizes the machine can still see that you encrypted a folder, so this don't have the undetectability factor. Built-in deniable encryption of the kind that I'm describing, doesn't instinctively feel like the sort of thing that Microsoft would start bundling with its operating system. (Among other things, they might say that while companies often have business reasons for encrypting files, it's harder to think of a business case where employees would need to encrypt files and hide the fact that they were encrypting anything.)

Perhaps instead it could be bundled with a popular free software program beholden to no for-profit corporate masters. (My first thought was Firefox, but I was quickly told that Firefox was created specifically to strip out many of the features that had caused bloat in the original Mozilla project, and that any bundling of unnecessary tools would go against the whole ethos of the project.) Maybe a good place to include something like this would be the Google Pack — it's installed by lots of people, and currently doesn't have a file-encryption tool in the bundle. Beholden to for-profit corporate masters, yes, but ones that frequently declare "Don't Be Evil" and often seem to do cool stuff just to see what would happen.

Another possibility would be for a next-generation P2P program to bundle this capability with their software. This provides a nice dovetailing of interests — P2P users might want a way to hide the files that they've downloaded, while at the same time, intruders who seize the computer and found the P2P application installed, wouldn't necessarily suspect the owner of anything more than a little copyrighted file trading. "Well, he's got this NiftyP2P program installed, which comes with 'plausibly deniable' encryption, but most people use just NiftyP2P to download mp3 files and movies anyway. And I can't tell if he was actually using the encrypted file storage volume, because that's how 'plausibly deniable' encryption works. Is this the same guy who uploaded those subversive anti-government documents? I dunno."

Anyway, if you actually want to give people a way to run encryption software on their PCs, while ensuring that anyone who seizes their machine cannot tell that any encryption has been going on, these are the hurdles that you'd have to clear. I'm not sure whether this is better viewed as a blueprint for how to achieve this goal, or an argument for why it will probably never happen. There are lots of almost-solutions, like TrueCrypt with its ability to encrypt different sets of data into the same storage volume. But you still can't actually hide the fact that you're doing encryption in the first place.

(If you're willing to store your encryption software away from your computer, you could keep a steganography program on a CD or USB drive hidden in your house, and then whenever you need access to the encrypted data, plug in the program and use it to extract data that has been hidden in a large number of image or video files. That would achieve the goals I've outlined in the article: the ability to encrypt files, while still ensuring that anyone who seizes your computer won't be able to tell that you've encrypted anything. The problem is that it would require enough self-discipline to always return the CD or USB stick to its hiding place when you were done with it — and still, you'd have to hope that whatever authorities seize your computer, don't also search your house and find the CD or USB stick where you keep your stego software.)

Finally, risking the wrath of my civil-libertarian allies, I'll admit it may not actually be a positive thing for every citizen to be able to hide the fact from their local law enforcement that they're encrypting files on their computer. Many times if the police in a mostly-free country like the US or the UK seize a person's computer, they're trying to prevent real harm, and not every person with an encrypted file volume is a good guy. For some of the people who have left enough of an evidence trail that their computers get seized, it would be perfectly rational to view them with suspicion because of an encrypted volume found on their computer. But if you assume it's a worthwhile goal for people to be able to encrypt files without attracting suspicion, my argument is that the prerequisites in this article are necessary for that to work. At the moment it seems a long way off. But if someone created an encryption program with "deniability" — so that it was impossible to tell whether the program had ever been used after it was installed — and someone at Google thought "Hey, that's cool" and added it to the Google Pack, everything would change very suddenly.

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Encryption? What Encryption?

Comments Filter:
  • Huh? (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by igny (716218)
    Story? What story?
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by causality (777677) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:36AM (#29038133)

      Story? What story?

      It wouldn't be a story if he just Googled it [justfuckinggoogleit.com]. It's a bit outdated but Rubberhose [iq.org] was explicitly designed for this purpose. The idea is that it has multiple encryption keys to store different data in a given volume with no way to prove there is more than one key or more than one item being stored. You use one password or key to encrypt less-sensitive data and then there is no way to prove that you have another key or password encrypting much more sensitive data within the same volume. So the cops ask for your encryption keys, you give them the less-sensitive one, they see your financial records or something else to which they already had access, and cannot prove there is anything else on the volume.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:56AM (#29038451)

        Um, no. In his editorial (there's no other word for it really), he specifically mentions similar functionality available from TrueCrypt. That is, the ability to host two (or more) encrypted volumes, one with stuff that you might want to hide but that isn't illegal and one with stuff that is illegal that you really want to hide.

        The true thrust of his article is that just having TrueCrypt (or any other advanced encryption tool) installed on your machine is enough to pique the interest of law enforcement. If just having encryption installed on the PC is enough to lose privacy and invite harassment, then TrueCrypt and the like create a different problem from the one they solve. Ideally, the author argues, it would be best if everyone had strong encryption on their machines, as part of the OS or as part of some other common piece of software. This way, the police would see nothing out of the ordinary when they see the encryption software, because everyone has it.

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Oswald (235719) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:05AM (#29038579)

          Why the hell are you summarizing the essay (or whatever it is) for him? What makes you think he'll read your post if he didn't bother with TFA? Because your post is shorter? It's still longer than a tweet, so by definition Too Long To Read.

          I suggest that in the future you not muddy up someone's confusion with a concise statement of fact.

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

          by kdemetter (965669) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:21AM (#29038815)

          Actually , Truecrypt can be used as a stand alone executable , which could be put on an external medium , like a usb stick .
          That way , you don't have to install it on your system , and there is no way to prove it , unless they find the stick.

          • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by lgw (121541) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @12:31PM (#29039937) Journal

            Oddly enough, when the police come to sieze your computer, they sometimes search your house and person for other computer-related stuff, including memory sticks. Weird, huh?

            I guess it's possible to hide a memory stick really well, but that sounds impractical for a computer you'd use every day, and if the police show up while the computer is being used (which they'd make an effort to do if this sort of thing became a problem) you'd still be screwed. Plus, they'd just start jailing anyone with random-seeming data on their hard drive until an encryptio key was provided (and anyone who atually had random data, like a securely erased drive, could just rot in prison).

            Really, it's just a small step from here to "you go to jail until you confess to whatever crimes we accuse you of". This is not a problem with a technological solution!

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by tom17 (659054)
              Or you could just hide it in your finger. [slashdot.org] They would never think to look there, and it's always with you!
              Tom...
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by networkBoy (774728)

                I have one USB key that is magic. It's not flash, and it requires a source of voltage to keep it's state information. There is a battery, and there is a jumper.

                *THUD THUD THUD* "Police! we have a warrant!"
                *Crash* /pull USB key /close jumper (shorting battery) /yank power cord from PC /sit calmly and wait

                Keys are gone.
                I don't know them.
                data is gone.
                no one can get it.
                forensically provable.

                Prior to actually reading the warrant you don't know what they are actually looking for so technically you have not been

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @12:54PM (#29040331) Homepage Journal

          The true thrust of his article is that just having TrueCrypt (or any other advanced encryption tool) installed on your machine is enough to pique the interest of law enforcement.

          Not if you have a good enough reason to have it installed. My wife uses her laptop for medical dictation, so I installed TrueCrypt with a boot password so that no one can access patient information if her computer gets stolen. There are enough stories about things like that happening that just about anyone can justify having TrueCrypt installed:

          "I keep my Quicken files on there."
          "I don't want someone getting my online banking passwords."
          "I don't want none of that identity theft!"

      • by tom17 (659054)
        And then the law enforcement, knowing that this is the premise of this software and assuming that you lawfully gave them the main encryption key, ask you for the dummy encryption key too as a kinda 'gotcha'. What's that? You don't have a dummy key? Then why are you using this software rather than PlainEncryptionTool?

        Of course, I guess there could be the functionality for a 3rd encryption key as a 2nd dummy for these situations, or n-keys so that the law enforcement cannot know how many you are likely to
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by NightWhistler (542034)

          The main difference would be that they can't actually prove that you have a second key, so it's a lot harder to convict you for refusing to give it.

          The people mentioned in the original article were convicted because they refused to give their main encryption key. Since it was easily provable that they had encryption on their machines, it was enough to get them convicted.

          It really depends what you're trying to protect yourself from: TrueCrypt or a similar solution may be enough to keep you from getting convi

    • gWVg+xEojKXMDhE2m4cdSEMYkx1KkL6oTIGqxVFksjxhY6h4aELohkJDrFX+P6ESb/Qmhpjw6ySB
      mg6nGIbrWVlQpCSTSaePyU8hCACOiAUQQ7HsV6S5dS9JKiklzPzXpLl1L0kqKSXM/NxpWKAVvARQ
      t4DSEpQHz7zVuolJ/gBYUEHwIUUoSymmUFCAIg1H1GFWRL5GEMIP0klImAAdywQgAg3RhAkgsLCC
      QcNpCdksSV0tgMgg/6qTIdQIMVDJBEGCdyBAQJ0zbBIOyQ1JAYQGQRogyxsoDGEEIhAkgmJqGoKg
      iKTNVL+mmhAQIa7IQkA4VKCUwBWVVAQ+NAgExIGovYL0oETDQKoIRMVQHyacMEh+ilDACHYWxQEJ

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dragonslicer (991472)

        gWVg+xEojKXMDhE2m4cdSEMYkx1KkL6oTIGqxVFksjxhY6h4aELohkJDrFX+P6ESb/Qmhpjw6ySB
        mg6nGIbrWVlQpCSTSaePyU8hCACOiAUQQ7HsV6S5dS9JKiklzPzXpLl1L0kqKSXM/NxpWKAVvARQ
        t4DSEpQHz7zVuolJ/gBYUEHwIUUoSymmUFCAIg1H1GFWRL5GEMIP0klImAAdywQgAg3RhAkgsLCC
        QcNpCdksSV0tgMgg/6qTIdQIMVDJBEGCdyBAQJ0zbBIOyQ1JAYQGQRogyxsoDGEEIhAkgmJqGoKg
        iKTNVL+mmhAQIa7IQkA4VKCUwBWVVAQ+NAgExIGovYL+1+9CMyJPOL+hmpJ0berHOkjLlrtHeroz1

        Fixed that for ya.

  • oblig. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:28AM (#29038005) Homepage Journal

    http://xkcd.com/538/ [xkcd.com]

    It's funny cause it's true.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jeff Carr (684298)
      That's why you make your encryption passwords something like: ThereIsNoWayI'mGivingYouMyPasswords!
  • Self-incrimination (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:28AM (#29038011)

    A smart crook with stolen state secrets or child porn on their encrypted drives would just tell 'em to fuck off.

    5 years in the pen for obstruction of justice ain't shit compared death for treason or being ganged-raped on a daily basis before having to live the rest of your life as a sex-offender.

    People will respect you on the inside and the outside because inmates and corporations both don't like snitches.

    captcha: harming
      -- Ethanol-fueled

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:38AM (#29038141) Journal

      A smart crook with stolen state secrets or child porn on their encrypted drives would just tell 'em to fuck off.

      Well, I can't comment on your claim of "respect" in jail as I've never been but Bennett's lengthy argument is more concerned with those of us that have -- say personal or financial data -- that we just don't want out in the open. Now, since I tell the police to "F off" they probably think that I've got state secrets or kiddie porn (like you just assumed). Which might not be true, I could just be exercising my rights.

      So he tries to come up with a modest proposal and in short he suggests it be piggy backed on a popular product so everyone has it installed (meaning installation does not equal incrimination in the eyes of the jury) and also that it has no logs to tell if or when or where it's been run. Also it should be hard to tell that you have encrypted files and he also looks into Truecrypt's double key trick where one key gives you harmless data and only after applying the second one do you get the real stuff. So just give them one key and shrug.

      An interesting proposition. Why doesn't he submit a suggestion for such a tool to be included with the Linux kernel or popular distro? Unlikely it'll happen and someone has to write it but since Linux has no fragmentation, it could maybe store headerless file information at the end of the filesystem that looks innocuous. Then give the user information on how much they can fill up before they destroy that data. I'm not a filesystem guy so I don't know how well that would work, just throwing out a suggestion. His requirements are definitely hard to meet.

      • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:48AM (#29038317) Journal

        So he tries to come up with a modest proposal

        I have a modest proposal: The good citizens of the UK should vote the bastards running their country out of office.

        • by stupid_is (716292) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:04AM (#29038573) Homepage
          That shouldn't be a problem - only problem is the bastards that will replace them
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      If you're arguing that the law is pointless because it allows criminals to keep their mouth shut and avoid some prison time, you're wrong.

      Without the law the criminals would be off scott free if the don't share the password. With the law, the criminals are guaranteed a certain amount of prison time for refusing to give the password and still run the risk of being convicted of whatever the police are accusing them of. For example, if the police think some guy has kiddie porn but he won't give his encryptio

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gehrehmee (16338)

      I would have thought that the easier route to get out of this connundrum would be to claim doctor-patient or lawyer-client confidentiality. "The encrypted volume you're looking at (may) contain confidential correspondance between me, and my lawyer, and my doctor, and therefore I cannot disclose it." Would a similar argument apply to something like a locked file-safe in an office?

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:30AM (#29038031) Journal

    You see, you keep the noncriminating data encrypted on the computer - and you keep the criminating stuff hidden in the Program Files\Microsoft Office folder.

    They'll be so concerned about accessing the encrypted stuff, that when they discover its just pictures of lolcats and epic fails, they'll stop searching your PC.

    As a failsafe, if they DO find your stuff in the office folder, tell them it must be Microsoft's doing!

  • >Applications>Others>Truecrypt>Busted!
  • by Algorithmn (1601909) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:33AM (#29038071) Homepage
    Some crypto junkies talk about distress keys. Where a user can enter two different keys depending on the situation. The real key loads the real OS. The distress key loads the "fake" OS. There are many ways to detect this in modern experiments. None will work without manipulating low level HD blocking.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PitaBred (632671)
      Why encrypt everything, though? Keep a secure volume with the distress key setup. Nobody cares about accessing your encrypted directX9.dll, or whether it's your real one or the "fake" one. They care about your data. Do your double-booking in a single Truecrypt hidden volume, and keep the "good" books under one password, the "bad" ones under another. Nobody can prove anything if you give them the "good" password. All they'll see is a volume that's larger than what you're storing on it, and that's not a crime
  • Comments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) * on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:33AM (#29038075) Journal

    If he has comments, he should post them under the story like everyone else. If they are good, they'll be modded up. There's no reason to post two stories on the front page on the same day for the same event. It's still a dupe, even if you acknowledge the previous story.

    • Re:Comments (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ojintoad (1310811) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:12AM (#29038711)
      If that's true, then let's run an experiment. I'll completely copy a comment that got +5 insightful on the other thread. [slashdot.org]

      It's an appalling piece of legislation for a number of reasons:

      1. It makes forgetting your decryption key/passphrase/whatever illegal. Yes, seriously. The burden of proof is on the accused to show that they can no longer decrypt the data - how the hell do you prove you don't have something?

      2. The people who it was originally intended to inconvenience - the real terrorists, if you like - aren't going to be even remotely concerned by it. They know full well that there is a risk they'll be caught and spend time in jail. If it's a choice between "reveal the decryption key, thus providing the police with the only evidence they're likely to find which implicates you and a number of others for so many criminal activities you'll be in prison for 20 years and when you get out you'll get a bullet in the head for the people who you dropped in it" or "keep your mouth shut, go to prison for two years", I wonder which one they'll chose?
      • Re:Comments (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Atario (673917) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @07:45PM (#29045725) Homepage

        No now the question is: did people mod you up because:

        A. They were completely suckered by the copy-n-paste
        B. They thought it was insightful of you to point out how easy it is to karma-whore
        C. They were amused by the idea of fulfilling your little "experiment" -- a.k.a, sheer cussedness

  • by Raleel (30913) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:34AM (#29038079)

    I've often wondered why when you are setting up your user account on a box, and it gets to the part with setting up email, it didn't give you a chance to generate or import public/private keys right there and them upload the public to a server. Particularly on linux boxes, this seems like a completely feasible option.

    One might also envision having a secret key storage mechanism, either by local external media or via remote storage where it could go look.

  • by mr exploiter (1452969) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:34AM (#29038089)

    One option to hide well the existence of encription software and data could be to put them among game files.

    It's common for games to have large data files, for example precompiled texture caches. You could change the program extension from .exe to .whatever and put it between those files. For extra stealth use a rare used packer (to avoiding signature matching) and also erase the first 2 bytes of the executable 'MZ', and use a good editor to put it back in place before executing it. The data it's encrypted and I don't think the NSA have parser for any arbitrary file in existence (game files in this case) so they won't suspect a think. Make sure that the date of change of those files don't draw attention to them.

    • by shadowknot (853491) * on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:56AM (#29038449) Journal

      This is a perfectly viable option but, as someone working in computer forensics, the major issue missed in this editorial and the subsequent comments is that most people really can't be bothered with encryption. I have examined many computers with versions of truecrypt and other, less reputable, encryption packages on them that are simply not used. Maybe I was foiled I hear you say and maybe yes I was (in my recollection there were no large unknown files with cryptic looking signatures and unfathomable data structures (normally a big pile of what looks like junk)) but the evidence was still resident (possibly replicated) in the unencrypted portion of the filesystem anyway.

      If I were to have the ability and/or inclination to design a system of encryption designed to not arouse suspicion it would have to be something that is there by default like having a separate partition or container file for each user with the encryption tied-in to their user account so when logging in their login credentials are the encryption key and the volume is auto mounted transparently. Maintaining a separate file or partition for each user would assure privacy both within the system and upon any kind of post-mortem analysis (such as a forensic analysis using EnCase, FTK or TSK). These are just my musings and as the author of the article said getting any kind of wide support for such a technology is unlikely and will probably never happen. It's interesting to muse on it however!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drew (2081)

        it would have to be something that is there by default like having a separate partition or container file for each user with the encryption tied-in to their user account so when logging in their login credentials are the encryption key and the volume is auto mounted transparently

        This sounds to me like the system that Mac OS X comes with, called FileVault. It asks whether you want to enable it when the account is created. If you say yes, it creates an encrypted file that gets mounted on top of your home di

  • Why hide your sooper seekrit encrypted data? Just run uuencode or MIME/Base64 encode on a few megabytes of /dev/random and rename it 'killobama.txt.php' and let the spooks knock themselves out trying to uncover your fiendish plot.

    Just keep your REAL encrypted gubbins between the regexp delimiters in your perl scripts and nobody will be any the wiser.

    • Re:Pffft. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nedlohs (1335013) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:58AM (#29038475)

      because when you can't provide them the encryption keys for that random file they'll lock you in jail for 2 years.

      • by Aim Here (765712)

        Not legally, surely.

        Now obviously a country that can pull people from , stuff them in orange jumpsuits and have them tortured in , isn't all that worried about due process n'all, but I was led to believe that in order to sentence you in a courtroom to jailtime, they'd have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the falsehood that your random file was in fact encrypted sooper-seekrit stuff, and not just a chunk of random file. Which, if the law works the way the guvmint say it does, should be impossible.

        So umm,

  • by gambino21 (809810) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:37AM (#29038135)
    Maybe this is a new business opportunity for the Pirate Bay. In addition to the private VPN service, you could also get remote anonymous encrypted storage. If you only access the storage through the VPN, it could make it pretty difficult to track.
    • by LehiNephi (695428) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:27AM (#29038885) Journal
      You bring up a good point, which is this: don't store incriminating files on your local computer in the first place.

      Use some sort of online encrypted storage. Or hide a file server in the walls of your house, with a wireless card and a watchdog timer. If it loses contact with your "main" computer (because the feds are seizing it as evidence), it shuts down. No power draw, no wireless signals to track, and your data remains safely hidden. As others have stated further down in the thread, your options are drastically limited if law enforcement have installed a screen reader or key logger or have been monitoring your internet traffic, but you can at least claim that someone was leeching off your wireless.
    • Maybe this is a new business opportunity for the Pirate Bay. In addition to the private VPN service, you could also get remote anonymous encrypted storage. If you only access the storage through the VPN, it could make it pretty difficult to track.

      This also sounds like an opportunity for the NSA and the Russian Mafia.

      For anyone, really, who has a clue to what use might be made of front organizations like Pirate Bay and billions of dollars to invest in traffic analysis and crypto.

  • Instead of focusing on hiding *LEGAL* activities perhaps some effort should be directed towards making sure that our rights to be free of unwarranted search and seizure, to be secure in our person and our documents and most importantly the rights to not being required to incriminate ourselves are not so easily and casually violated.

    Unfortunately the only way to ever truly and safely encrypt something is to not store that information at all. "Never write when you can talk, never talk when you can nod, and ne

  • hide it in your bra (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bombastinator (812664) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:39AM (#29038161)
    The standard technique for moving such files a while was to hide the data inside pornography. They are one of the most commonly trafficked file types on the internet and people prefer not to look at it too closely. Or did before it became a standard..
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      The standard technique for moving such files a while was to hide the data inside pornography. They are one of the most commonly trafficked file types on the internet and people prefer not to look at it too closely

      You wouldn't happen to know where I could apply for a job looking for this hidden data, would you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jeff Carr (684298)

        You wouldn't happen to know where I could apply for a job looking for this hidden data, would you?

        I've had this job, and you don't want it. I'm not kidding, you really don't want it.

  • by harl (84412) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:41AM (#29038181)

    What all the talks on crypto seem to forget is that crypto only protects your data when you are not using it.

    If they are investigating you to the point where they are going to be seizing your computer they have means of acquiring your password.

    They can get a warrant an put a key logger on your system. Optionally they could acquire a warrant to install some sort of surveillance with the intent of either shoulder surfing the password or to simply read the data off the screen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by s31523 (926314)
      Exactly! Case in point: My buddy has encryption running on his laptop to encrypt files for work (financial spreadsheets, etc.). I bet him a six pack I could pull up a spreadsheet. So I basically ran a file recovery program (he was smart enough to "delete" the unencrypted file after use) and pulled up a spreadsheet of his. After I took part in my reward I showed him what I did and then gave him a shredder program that decreases the chance of file recovery. I am sure some crypto programs have this whole p
  • by bhsx (458600) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:43AM (#29038235)
    If it's not going to be a part of the OS itself, make it a part of the browser. Firefox could "reclaim the heart of the people" by adding this as a part of browser security. By default, the browser should encrypt all personal data, such as passwords and even file/URL history. Add a small option as a menu item in Tools/Privacy/Encryption/Personal History and allow you to create as large a file as you want (password protected of course) and use the browser to save to/browse the file.
    This tool should also use a form of "hidden volumes" like truecrypt and it should save in the browser history folder, but give you the option to create it anywhere you want.
    If 25%-plus of the population has it installed, it becomes much less suspicious.
    Hell, if MS put it in IE 8.1 it would possibly even win-over the geek crowd.
  • Back in the 17th century he suggested sending encrypted messages by various nonobvious means, for instance firing a gun at intervals that represented a binary code, or making prick marks through certain letters in a book. In effect, back to steganography.

    Steganography was very big at the time. For instance, some people believe that Wm Shakespere was involved in the King James Bible but could not be credited because, as an actor, he was not respectable. Find the King James Version, find psalm 46, find 46th w

  • Tag it into the end of some other sort of binary file (executable, image file etc) that will work fine with extra data on the end but is not human readable therefore cannot be easily checked. Eg adding binary data onto the end of a .txt file would be spotted by all but the most stupid technician.

  • Why would you have the software on your computer anyway? Encrypt your data, put it in an unmarked area of the drive and delete the encryption program. Travel. When you want to decrypt the data, download the decryption program (better do it on a USB stick) and run it. The data, while encrypted with a decent algorithm, looks like random noise on the hard drive unless it's VERY carefully analyzed. Just don't write anything to the drive in the meantime.

    This whole "story" seems suspiciously like an attempt

    • by Locklin (1074657)

      I don't know of any encryption software that creates an encrypted file that isn't easily identifiable. Heck, running "file passwords" on my machine results in:

      passwords: GPG encrypted data

      I'm sure it's possible to try to hide encrypted data as noise, but that doesn't seem to be the default operation

  • by xtracto (837672)

    Whether you're talking about encryption software or stego software, if it's a program that not a lot of people have installed, then just by virtue of having it on your machine, you'll attract suspicion if your machine is seized.

    Using a portable program like [url=http://sourceforge.net/projects/hide-in-picture/]hide-in-picture[/url] along with some easy to use portable GUI to make it easier to hide several files is a suitable solution.

    On the one hand, you could have such program (along with any indexing it creates) in a USB thumb drive, or just upload it somewhere in a server where you always have access (thus, you do not need it in your computer while passing through unreliable points).

    On the other hand, pictures are something tha

  • You don't put the program on your compute; you keep it as a portable executable on a memory stick that is kept somewhere where it's highly unlikely to be found by a casual search; not too difficult given how small they can be. Combine that with something like TrueCrypt's hidden partitions that are supposedly(*) undetectable and as long as you don't slip up and divulge the fact there is a hidden "key", you can leave them searching through some suitably innocuous collection of data files.

    (*) I refuse to
  • This whole problem has arisen because people are storing everything on a single hard drive now instead of using removable media as they did in the past, e.g., with floppy disks. Removable media makes it easy to take your sensitive data away and hide it. Removable media can be encrypted. And if you have multiple units, you can plausibly claim that you forgot the password to that old disk because you don't use it every day (a claim that's hard to make about your main hard drive).
  • Hide the stego program inside another binary. Running an application with a hidden option would then turn it into a stego program. No idea how viable this is.

  • TrueCrypt (Score:5, Interesting)

    by skiman1979 (725635) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:50AM (#29038341)

    A program called TrueCrypt achieves something close to this â" TrueCrypt allows you to encrypt a storage volume with two different passwords, so that one password provides access to "innocent-looking" data, while the other password provides access to the data that you really want to keep secure. If someone is compelled to give up their password, they could provide only the password that unlocks the "innocent-looking" data â" and there's no way, from examining the encrypted file, to tell that there is a second password guarding even-more secret data. (Of course, the "innocent-looking" data can't be truly innocent-looking, because it has to look like the kind of thing that someone would believe you might want to encrypt â" so it should look suspicious enough that you would genuinely want to hide it, but not bad enough to get you in real trouble if you're forced to reveal it!) The Achilles heel of this scheme is that just having TrueCrypt on your computer in the first place, would at least signal to an intruder that you're encrypting files. And even if they can't prove that you might have another "super-secret password" guarding more private data on your encrypted volume, they would certainly suspect it, if they already had grounds to be investigating you and if they knew anything about how TrueCrypt works. To provide true plausible deniability of any encryption at all, you need a program that already exists on lots of people's machines, so that an intruder doesn't suspect anything when they find it on your computer.

    It's been a while since I've used TrueCrypt, so maybe things have changed. I do remember the feature where you can have a 'hidden volume' inside your TrueCrypt encrypted volume, which sounds like what the quote above is talking about, that is protected by a second password. The thing with TrueCrypt is, at least the version I used around 2003, you don't have to have the software installed on the computer in order to use it. TrueCrypt can run entirely off of a flash drive or other removable media.

    From what I understand, the hidden volume's data is stored in the free space of the main encrypted volume, so the filesystem doesn't actually have handles to this data, something like that. I wonder if it would be possible to store this hidden volume directly inside the free space of an NTFS volume instead of inside a TrueCrypt encrypted volume? So then an intruder would have to know that TrueCrypt was used, and then use the tool to scan the NTFS volume for hidden data, rather than just seeing that there's an encrypted volume there, and suspect there may be hidden data as well.

    • by RMH101 (636144)
      Your point is cogent, informative, and well-written.
      Are you new here?
      I'd just add that TC state that their hidden volumes are indistinguishable from random noise, i.e. cannot be detected.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drew (2081)

      I wonder if it would be possible to store this hidden volume directly inside the free space of an NTFS volume instead of inside a TrueCrypt encrypted volume?

      You can, I'm pretty sure, but then it's not truly hidden anymore - there's no obvious file hanging out, but anyone who did a forensic analysis of the drive would likely notice that instead of being full of unmapped fragments of old files, the unused space on your disk is full of random garbage. There is also a big catch - if you ever write to the NTFS

  • by honestmonkey (819408) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:51AM (#29038357) Journal

    I have a bunch of programs on my computer that are installed because they seemed kind of cool, but that I never used because I'm lazy or they weren't so cool after all. So yeah, Truecrypt is on my PC, but I never used it. Forgot to delete it, thought I might use it one day, maybe. So I don't have a password or anything encrypted.

    Why does having the program imply use? I've got a weed-wacker in my garage I haven't used in years. Tent up in the attic, I haven't been camping in decades.

    I've got utilities that were going to save me time and money, some of which I even paid for, that I never used beyond the initial install. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

  • Encrypting one's entire filesystem ( especially on a laptop ) is a common corporate policy to prevent a stolen laptop from resulting in bad guys getting company data. Having such software installed is common for legitimate reasons.

    A promising looking p2p data storage system which meets your requirements is this: http://www.madore.org/~david/misc/freespeech.html [madore.org]. It's based on the fact that the same data can be interpreted in more than one way. 128k of bytes can be interpreted by another 128k of bytes a

  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:02AM (#29038525) Homepage

    In the US the government can force a suspect/defendant to turn over a key to the safe, but not to turn over the combination to the safe.

    Doe v. United States, 487 U.S. 201 (1988)

  • by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:02AM (#29038533) Homepage
    Okay, the author makes an interesting statement - unless you have something to hide, why encrypt? IOTW, for those looking at computers, the author argues that encryption is nto widespread enough to have it be looked at without suspicion.

    Now - let's turn it around. In my work, we manadate that all laptops and usb keys are encrypted. Always. When we get a laptop (I think my department has around 800 laptops, with mine the only one running Ubuntu.) the hard drive gets encrypted. Any USB key gets encrypted.

    I do the same for home. My three desktop PCs (two Ubuntu one Vista) are all encrypted.

    Why?

    In the case of work, they don't want the possibility of any portable device having personal or otherwise comprimising data being stolen. (See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/21/AR2006092101602.html or http://blog.internetnews.com/agoldman/2009/04/lost-laptop-okdhs.html for examples.)

    In the case of my house, I don't want the possibility of my home PC being run off with my last years tax statements in plain view. (Actually I have those on a separate hard drive, but you get the idea.)

    Now - for downloading pr0n, one should simply do what comes naturally and use a neighbors open unprotected wifi connection... ;)
  • A twist on TrueCrypt (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stevegee58 (1179505)
    OK, first off you idiots who didn't read the whole editorial and suggested TrueCrypt: try expanding your attention spans beyond the length of a tweet.

    Now on to my own contribution. Since TrueCrypt is open source, one could come up with their own custom build that would no longer have the same appearance as the original. By appearance, I mean the GUI could be modified or eliminated (command line only). In addition the executable file could be sufficiently scrambled so that its pedigree could be hidden:
  • Did you vote in the last election? Did you campaign door-to-door? When was the last time you attended a demonstration? These are the things that will improve your legal rights, not trying to use tech to hide your use of encryption.

    For a start, you might snail-mail your representative and ask how you can communicate with their office privately, now that governments are starting to claim the right to intercept and store snail-mail, email, and telephone calls.

  • by Nomen Publicus (1150725) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:08AM (#29038635)
    I keep telling people, "Keep your illegal porn and plans to assassinate [insert name here] on other peoples PCs."
  • what about Wuala? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ianopolous (1080059) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @11:08AM (#29038641) Homepage
    Doesn't Wuala solve this? It stores your files in encrypted pieces spread over multiple remote machines (so you can't see the size used without your password). It already has a large number of users as well. The password is not stored anywhere.
  • What happened to simply "I forgot my password". You know going to jail and such is a traumatic experience I can see no reason as to why one might not be able to recall their password/phrase.
  • Please, write a virus that installs TrueCrypt on every computer it infects.

    There, solved the problem of suspicious because he has the file.

  • Convenience and plausible deniability [wikipedia.org] are somewhat mutually exclusive. Forensic traces are really hard to combat. Even if you memorize the ones and zeros, the "encryption" can mostly be broken with rubber-hose cryptoanalysis. [wikipedia.org]

    An interesting solution would be a browser plug-in gaining popularity which integrates with several major image hosting providers, offering client-side stenography and crypto. Only small files would fit though, but it'd be usable in some of the same scenarios Freenet [freenetproject.org] was meant for,
  • Good idea (Score:3, Funny)

    by Arthur B. (806360) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @12:38PM (#29040077)

    Reminds me of a similar idea I had around high school, package a condom with each canned drink in the vending machines.

  • Take the fifth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @03:19PM (#29042499)
    Just make your crypto password "I committed an act of littering on 2009-09-10 aj8s6wg". When the judge tells you that your password itself isn't protected by your right not to self-incriminate, you can tell him that your password itself is a confession to a crime. If you hit the bullseye, the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.
    • by shermozle (126249)

      As we all know, the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution covers the United States and the United Kingdom. Hell, their names are similar.

  • by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @12:30AM (#29047627) Homepage

    GNU Privacy Guard is part of the default install of Ubuntu / Debian because it's used to validate the digital signatures of .deb packages before they are installed. It can easily be used for pass-phrase file encryption with the "-c" option. If you run "gpg -c some_file" it will prompt you for a passphrase and spit out an encrypted some_file.gpg. If you then run "gpg some_file.gpg" it'll prompt you for the passphrase and recreate the origional some_file.

    There are various reasons why this doesn't perfectly accomplish the goal described, but the fact that many Linux systems have user-accessible strong crypto functionality installed as an integral element of the system is definitely relevant to the topic at hand.

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