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Skype Encryption Stumps German Police

CowboyNeal posted more than 6 years ago | from the secret-decoder-phone-rings dept.

Encryption 289

TallGuyRacer writes "German police are unable to decipher the encryption used in the internet telephone software Skype to monitor calls by suspected criminals and terrorists, Germany's top police officer, Joerg Ziercke, said. "The encryption with Skype telephone software ... creates grave difficulties for us... We can't decipher it. That's why we're talking about source telecommunication surveillance — that is, getting to the source before encryption or after it's been decrypted.""

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Skype unbreakable? (5, Insightful)

niceone (992278) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452521)

Well, it seems they are not really trying - they are not even talking to Skype about it.
What they want is permission to install spyware - something that is illegal in Germany at the moment:

Ziercke said there was a vital need for German law enforcement agencies to have the ability to conduct on-line searches of computer hard drives of suspected terrorists using "Trojan horse" spyware.
That's the real point of the story, not that Skype is unbreakable.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (3, Insightful)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452551)

Indeed. Also from TFA

Spyware computer searches are illegal in Germany, where people are sensitive about police surveillance due to the history of the Nazis' Gestapo secret police and the former East German Stasi.
I would hope that they are illegal in any civilised country.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (2, Interesting)

BobTheLawyer (692026) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452681)

Why? If the police can, in extreme situations, apply to a court for a warrant to search a suspect's house, open their mail or tap their phone - and the US and almost every other country allows this - why shouldn't they be able to search a suspect's computer?

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452859)

It seems to me that, even if it were legal, it would be very hard to admit as evidence in court. If a computer is compromised then the defendant has a good defence against being responsible for anything found or done with the computer. The hard part, usually, is proving that the computer was compromised. If the prosecution are claiming that they are the ones that compromised it then there is no way a decent barrister would fail to convince the jury that their client had absolutely no responsibility for anything done to the computer.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Insightful)

ewn (538392) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452861)

Well they can already do that now, for example by installing microphones in suspect's homes, but it requires a court warrant and a considerable amount of work. The Bundestrojaner would make snooping simpler, both in technical and in legal terms. And we know that if technology is cheap and simple, it's going to be used more. That is, i think, the government's goal here: gaining the ability to infiltrate a large number of computers, say of a significant percentage of Muslim citizens, or the globalization sceptics of Attac, or any other group that potentially features undesirable behaviour. No court would ever allow such a sweeping surveillance, and the police doesn't have the resources to bug thousands of homes anyway.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Interesting)

bhima (46039) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452963)

I've thought about this idea that the Bundestrojaner would make snooping cheaper and easier. I think it would have another effect: About 15 minutes after they let the first one out into the wild some teenager in Slovenia would publish a CLI app that would detect and disable it or alternately hijack the app to share the contents of the drive on whatever P2P app Slovenian teenagers are into this week. Then everyone who *really* had a reason to make sure they were not infected would have this app and only the average Joe would be out there sharing his hard drive contents with the world.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (5, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452929)

There is a big difference between tapping a phone or a search warrant on the one side and a secret search of one's computer.

For a search warrant to be executed the suspect has to be present, or at least an outside witness has to be present. (I don't know about the legal situation in the U.S., but at least in Germany this is the case.)

Phone tapping can't create phone conversations that never happened.

But if you can install a software on a person's computer without him noticing, then you could also put counterbande files like the oh so beloved bomb construction howtos or kiddie porn on the computer.

The main problem with secretly spying on a computer is that it compromises the computer. From a legal point of view material gained with a secret computer search shouldn't be brought to court, because there is no way to prove that the evidence isn't faked.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (2, Interesting)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452957)

In Germany, secret searches of homes are prohibited. IRC, they have to happen in the presence of a member the household, or a neighbour. The telephone, mail and internet communication are not part of the home, and can be secretly monitored under the observation of a judge. The suspect has to be informed afterwards. The home enjoys a much stronger constitutional protection than communication.

Of course, the ministry of interior and the police argue, that they can't stop the terrorists, if they can't secretly hack the computer and monitor their communication.
And of course, it will only be used for severe crimes. Normal people have nothing to fear.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (1)

Slashidiot (1179447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452553)

Yes, feels like not being able to eavesdrop Skype conversations is just an excuse to get spyware on people's computer. I'm OK with the police doing that, IF a judge decides there is some kind of spyware warrant for that particular person on that particular time.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (2, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452581)

Governments often tell us that there is some threat that they want to protect us from, and if we just give up a little bit of our freedom they will make society much safer. We fall for this trick over and over again.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (1)

404 Clue Not Found (763556) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452619)

Governments often tell us that there is some threat that they want to protect us from, and if we just give up a little bit of our freedom they will make society much safer. We fall for this trick over and over again.
Well, what if it DOES make society safer? Is it worth it -- is there a balance of some sort to be found? What's a good place to draw the line? People always repeat the "he who sacrifices liberty for security..." line, but what would a better solution be? Zero policing? No laws? Absolute freedom? Would that mean complete chaos and anarchy, and if so, is the freedom still worth it? Why?

Re:Skype unbreakable? (1)

Obsi (912791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452687)

You misquote it. It's "Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Re:Skype unbreakable? (1)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452765)

Well, what if it DOES make society safer?

I'd say that right now, society is plenty safe enough, but our privacy isn't strict enough. Time to make errors in the direction of privacy for a while.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (2, Insightful)

bug1 (96678) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452783)

Well, what if it DOES make society safer?
Safer for society as a whole, or safer for the elites ?

is there a balance of some sort to be found?
A perception of balance... balance according to which perspective ?

What's a good place to draw the line?
Does there have to be a "line", can freedom vs security be seen in black and white ?

People always repeat the "he who sacrifices liberty for security..." line, but what would a better solution be?
Those with power will always say they need more of it, how can those with power be prevented from abusing it ?

Zero policing?
Is there any point having laws if they aren't enforced ?

No laws?
If there were no state imposed laws would human behaviour still be government by morality/ethics, are they laws ?

Absolute freedom?
Is freedom a state of mind ?

Would that mean complete chaos and anarchy, and if so, is the freedom still worth it?
Does anarchy imply chaos, or just a lack of authority ?
Do humans have the ability to abandon all order ?
How would you describe chaos in a society ?
Is freedom an abstract concept, if so, on what terms do you value it ?

Why?
I could answer that, but i have to go.

I look forward to rexchanging opinions again in the future.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (1)

404 Clue Not Found (763556) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452887)

Safer for society as a whole, or safer for the elites ?
Dunno. Probably depends on the law and its enforcement. But wouldn't that be another topic altogether? What if we assume the law applies equally to all -- would the security be worth it then?

A perception of balance... balance according to which perspective ?
(Same as above). A balance -- for all affected by the law, without regard to their social status (yeah, I know, not very realistic, but bear with me) -- where they give up some liberty in exchange for some security.

Does there have to be a "line", can freedom vs security be seen in black and white ?
I suppose it can be, but conversely, why does it have to be seen in black and white...? I think very few things can usefully be simplified down to the black and white. What would zero security or zero liberty even look like?

Those with power will always say they need more of it, how can those with power be prevented from abusing it ?
Give everyone the same amount of power? This really isn't about class differences, but rather about liberty vs security. For example, yes, if the police can monitor everything regular citizens say and we can't inspect their methods or actions, there's a huge power imbalance there and a great potential for abuse... but let's imagine, for an instant, that EVERYBODY can see what happens in everybody else's lives and NOBODY has any privacy. In that case, would the presumably Minority Report-esque security that results be worth it?

Is there any point having laws if they aren't enforced ?
No, but why do you keep sidetracking and asking completely unrelated questions? Is there any point of having laws if people can just bribe their way out prison? No, but that has nothing to do with this discussion.

If there were no state imposed laws would human behaviour still be government by morality/ethics, are they laws ?
Could ya rephrase this? I don't understand.

Absolute freedom? Is freedom a state of mind ?
Is security a state of mind? More importantly, I still don't see how this is relevant.

Does anarchy imply chaos, or just a lack of authority ?
I dunno. I meant them as synonyms. If you want to more properly define them, please go ahead.

Do humans have the ability to abandon all order ?
Doubtful, which is why I said "a balance", not an absolute on either end.

How would you describe chaos in a society ?
Not complete and utter chaos, perhaps, but a chaotic enough situation where the only rule is the rule of force, i.e. violence; that, and perhaps very rudimentary diplomacy (you're my mother, so I won't kill you... but business? pssh. I'll just kill you and take all your goods since there's nobody looking).

Is freedom an abstract concept, if so, on what terms do you value it ?
I really don't know what you're asking here.

Why? I could answer that, but i have to go. I look forward to rexchanging opinions again in the future.
You know, this almost sounds like a troll. Well, I'm taking the bait. I hope it turns into an actual discussion.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Insightful)

presarioD (771260) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452921)

Well, what if it DOES make society safer?

History has repeatedly proven that when a government asks its citizens to give up liberties it is working against making society safer but more absolute and submissive. Can you provide with any example where people who gave up their freedoms became safer? I can cite alot of counterexamples: nazi/fascist/communist governments that miserably failed in all fronts, including safety (the state safety-keeping apparatus turned against the citizens). Now neo-capitalism wants to join the club and they are going to be different exactly why?

Please don't use the words "democracy and freedom" in your answer, I've just eaten...

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Interesting)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452663)

As a good example,
The US managed to get the UK to agree to deport anyone they asked for in case they were terrorists.

The first people the chose to ask to be deported were a bunch of bankers that had done some dodgy dealings, hardly terrorists.

And what's worse/better is that the US didn't hold up to it's part of the bargain and sign up to a similar agreement.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (2, Insightful)

vrai (521708) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452845)

And what's worse/better is that the US didn't hold up to it's part of the bargain and sign up to a similar agreement.

Not that I'm defending this treaty in anyway, nor the period during which it was unilateral, but the US Senate signed off on it last year [bbc.co.uk] . Apparently the Senate was concerned that the UK might use the treaty to extradite IRA members who had fled to the US and that would apparently be a bad thing.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452879)

Apparently the Senate was concerned that the UK might use the treaty to extradite IRA members who had fled to the US and that would apparently be a bad thing.


So the US government supports terrorism. Presumably only if it is done by white people with cute accents.

The US people also supported terrorism back in the day (well, those that claim to be Irish), before they understood the actual reality of terrorism.

I doubt the UK government would want to get into the hassle that extraditing any such people would inevitably lead to of course, but if the US is harbouring and protecting terrorists willingly then it really needs to sort out what its story is regarding terrorism.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (1)

nyekulturniy (413420) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452945)

I think that comment is too broad reaching. Specifically, the senators from New York and Massachusetts, where the Irish-American political influence is strongest, opposed this extradition treaty. The rest of the country didn't care, but it was never high on the U.S. priorities.

All Hail the Nanny State! (1)

Eggplant62 (120514) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452937)

The Nanny State knows better than I do how to take care of me. I need the Nanny State in order to properly function as a responsible adult. Without the Nanny State telling me what to do, how am I to know what is right and what is wrong? It's just like having an extension of my Mommy and Daddy around for the rest of my life! I feel SO COMFORTABLE!

This message brought to you by the letters A and Q and the number 5. "A" stands for absurd.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (4, Informative)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452575)

Exactly. The Anti-terror craze has long reached German lawmakers, and they are in a rage creating law after law (though not as bad as in the US and UK) and seeing what survives the Bundesverfassungsgericht, the court that decides if laws are against the German Grundgesetz (Basic Law, comparable to the US Constitution).

In the case of the "Federal Trojan", it was decided in 02/07 that such measures are illegal to conduct, and decisions made by the Bundesverfassungsgericht are equivalent to laws. So what they're doing now, they're keeping the discussion (and the fear-mongering) alive and continue to develop the trojan despite it being illegal, in an effort to undermine that decision. Most notorious for this behaviour is, of all people, our Minister of Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble. He repeatedly clamored and still clamors for this and other measures which are explicitely forbidden by the Grundgesetz and the Bundesverfassungsgericht, for example shooting down abducted planes. He's one of the single largest threats to what he has to protect by job description, namely the Grundgesetz.

Additionally (1)

philipp-de (1154309) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452941)

The Federal Court at the moment trials to other laws recently made by our governmnet: - So called "Vorratsdatenspeicherung" - That is everytime you connect to an internet Server or Call some number on the telephone it gets registered what server you did connect, what number you've called and how long the connection lasted. This data shall be saved for 6 months, according to the new law. - Mass scanning of car numbers through camera systems at the roadside by the police. Police claims the scanned numbers are not stored , but rather being matched against a database of known fugitives. But some doubt definitely remains here. Both laws were heavily and partly critically questioned by the Judges at the Federal Court ("Bundesverfassungsgericht") at the oral proceedings. Those judges also have a long standing history of invalidating laws that would take government power too far.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452947)

While your post certainly makes sense, I simply cannot take serious anyone who uses "GröFaZ" as a nickname.

(Note to Slashdot moderators: "GröFaZ" is a cryptonym of sorts for Adolf Hitler that (neo-)nazis use in order to be able to talk about him without everyone immediately realising who they're referring to.)

Re:Skype unbreakable? (3, Informative)

Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452979)

The term GröFaZ was *not* something you wanted to be caught using when the Nazis were in power. It is a (disrespectful) abbreviation of 'Größte Führer aller Zeiten' (Greatest leader of all times) which was what the Nazi party propaganda machinery used to call their big boss.

Re:Skype unbreakable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452925)

Maybe they should ask the guys at Bletchley Park if they can borrow Colossus?

I long for the day (2, Interesting)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452531)

when technology allows brain implants and wireless brain-to-brain communication. Oh joy.

Re:I long for the day (1)

DiSKiLLeR (17651) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452545)

Hmmmm.

That would be nice, but only if our communication was secure with encryption.

Personally, I think its great that skype encrypts everything and think it should be standard with more software.

Re:I long for the day (1)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452723)

In the days of smart phones, I wonder why they bother sending the conversations in the plain, encoded in a way open to the phone company, shared with the guvmint, Russian mafia, and anyone who pays a dime.

I personally hardly use my phone, I don't remember the last time I used it for something else than telling my sister of friend that I'm almost there -- so I don't bother with iPhones or any other $500 bricks. For those who do make more than two calls a month and have one of those super-duper new phones, not using encryption is kind of hard to understand.

Re:I long for the day (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452763)

The software to do that and phones that can do that using GPRS/encrypted VOIP has been out for nearly 4 years now. Forgot the name of the phone, some Swiss company was making it.

Re:I long for the day (2)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452897)

Naturally, it would be strange if no one thought of making such a phone. What bothers me is, no one seems to use encryption. We're swamped with news about latest new and shiny phones, yet there's never a word about a real phone having such a feature. This /. article, for example, talks about Skype which is not available on portable devices -- and even if it was, black-box encryption is worthless. Skype is known to cooperate with China, for example -- so their encryption may be trustworthy enough against Johnny ScriptKiddie listening on a r00ted router, but not much more.

To get the uninterested population use it, encryption would have to be completely transparent. This is easy to do -- GSM connections are nothing but a compressed stream of bits anyway, they don't have to be understandable to pass through the network; if the stream includes a handshake it will be encrypted, if not, it's a talk with a non-compatible phone and will proceed in clear text^H^H^H^Hvoice. Adding key management would be a must for those with a clue about security, but if most users get an alarm if someone's public key changed, this would be a huge plus. Heck, do YOU preseed your ssh known keys? I admit I don't, being vulnerable to a MITM if someone gets me during the first connection.

ssh can replace telnet without a layman user even knowing the difference. If you can do the same with phones, we're golden.

Re:I long for the day (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452597)

when technology allows brain implants and wireless brain-to-brain communication.

Then Governments will want to install spy ware in your brain to listen in on your illegal communications/thoughts. Just make sure you aren't remembering any songs against the wishes of the copyright holders.

Re:I long for the day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452647)

The brain can already do this in certain (usually) emergency cases and to at least a limited extend without any implants. We just need to learn how to use it better. :)

Re:I long for the day (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452671)

When we have the technology for brain implant communications we will have the technology for brain implant based thought monitoring.. no thanks.

Re:I long for the day (1)

psmears (629712) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452703)

wireless brain-to-brain communication

Isn't that what they used to call "talking"? ;-)

Re:I long for the day (1)

ultrasound (472511) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452981)

Then the DRM will be perfect. Every audio and video source can be directly censored and you won't be able to watch the TV or listen to the radio without the correct NeuroDRM(TM) licence.

Can't wait.

Great (5, Insightful)

dalmiroy2k (768278) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452539)

Not only Skype gives us free, multiuser lag-free video conference with excellent quality, now we know our conversations are private.
I have nothing to hide, but nothing to share either.

Re:Great (5, Insightful)

paulhar (652995) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452549)

Assumption: this isn't dis-information designed to make us all feel safer about using Skype's encryption

Re:Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452969)

Indeed, Skype is not trustworthy. Remember what crypotology experts like Bruce Schneier have said about closed protocols and cryptology standards. If it's not open to inspection and peer review, you cannot trust it. And Skype is not just closed: it tries to prevent itself being reverse engineered! Backdoors can easily be added to the program without your knowledge, and no doubt law enforcement agents are already able to set up Skype wiretaps (although perhaps the German police aren't "in" on the secret yet).

So, don't use Skype for anything confidential.

Re:Great (2, Funny)

Slashidiot (1179447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452631)

Just to be extra-safe, I'll be using skype and talking in ROT13.

Re:Great (1)

Tuoqui (1091447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452661)

Best. Comment. Ever.

In this day and age of people reciting the mantra 'If you have nothing to hide' that should become the mantra to respond to it 'I have nothing to share either'

Someone mod the parent up please.

Re:Great (1)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452785)

As well as, "I have nothing to hide, therefore, you don't need to look."

isn't that the point of encryption? (3, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452555)

encryption with Skype telephone software ... creates grave difficulties for us... We can't decipher it.

Whether it's the police or just some nosey old git (Q: how can you tell the difference?) who's eavedropping on your conversation, the point is that only the person you're talking to should be able to decrypt the data.

If the police don't like that, that can always try to outlaw it - or require that keys are made available to them.

The problem you get then is people who "spoof" an encrypted datastream by just sending random numbers (tho' not from a Microsoft source as we've recently been told) down the line.
How do you know when a stream of apparently encrypted data has been decoded anyway?

Re:isn't that the point of encryption? (1)

RSA7474 (1163263) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452587)

I wonder what type of encryption they use? Because if its developed like a public key cryptographic system.. then good luck! Their only real chance of deciphering is that they know the Alice and Bob.. so maybe if they try to review the ciphertext (cipher-speech?) sent between both parties maybe they can decipher it.. such as, maybe each time they talk they start with a "hello" and end on a "goodbye". But that is assuming it can seen this way.. but its really just a stream of 1's and 0's sent over a digital channel.

Re:isn't that the point of encryption? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452601)

If the police don't like that, that can always try to outlaw it - or require that keys are made available to them.

They're police. They can just get a warrant and setup a bug in the place of interest, or use one of those microphone systems that can sit across the street and listen in by observing the fluctuations in a window.

Sorry, but surveillance shouldn't be easy.

Re:isn't that the point of encryption? (5, Funny)

sid77 (984944) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452791)

If the police don't like that, that can always try to outlaw it
If cryptography is outlawed, bayl bhgynjf jvyy unir pelcgbtencul.

Good Police Work (4, Insightful)

hanssprudel (323035) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452563)


This is a good thing. Having to install monitoring at the source or destination means an operation that requires effort and, hopefully, a court order. This means that their is judicial oversight, and that to catch criminals police have to do, you know, police work rather than just sitting around spying on us.

Ubiquitous encryption does not make law enforcement impossible. It just makes indiscriminate law enforcement impossible.

Re:Good Police Work (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452653)

Ubiquitous encryption does not make law enforcement impossible. It just makes indiscriminate law enforcement impossible.
Ubiquitous encryption does make law enforcement harder. So it's just a matter of how much you value security versus privacy.

The path of least resistance steps over the citizens rights.

Re:Good Police Work (1)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452731)

Ubiquitous encryption does make law enforcement harder. So it's just a matter of how much you value security versus privacy.
What security ?
I'm not threatened by people using encryption since I don't own Big Media (tm) shares.

And as for "evil people", whether they have crypto freely available or not doesn't change anything. Good crypto is available everywhere already. Whether it's outlawed or not people will still use it. Should it vanish overnight for some reason, there are alternatives (one time pads, courriers, etc.).

All of the various hysterical measures taken in the recent years have presumably had marginal effect on security.
Except that a lot of people feel less safe from their police with its increased powers nowadays.

Re:Good Police Work (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452773)

Well, you value more a lot of lost privacy than a little more security.

We agree, but it's clear that some people value more the little security than the loss of privacy. Usually when it's their security and our privacy.

Re:Good Police Work (1)

zazzel (98233) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452745)

It's not as much as good thing as it seems. Ziercke argues for the right to install spyware through a tool called "remote forensic software" - a government trojan!

Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (3, Informative)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452567)

According to this PDF document [skype.com] , Skype encryption is based on open standard (such as AES, SHA-1, etc).

According to this article [wired.com] , our good friends at the NSA "may" have put backdoors in some of the technologies that could be used by Skype.

And, then, according to this other article [theage.com.au] , it does not matter what technologies you use, if your CPU is wide open to analysis and crypto attacks.

And, of course, there is the question of using a 'secure' communication system on a completely insecure operating system, such as Windows. Why do you think they talk of intercepting the communication before it becomes encrypted? Probably because the vast majority of suspects use Windows. Using Linux, or MacOS, would not be much of an improvement either.

Conclusion? Well, the Bundespolizei (that's German police to you) may not have the means to decipher your skype communications right now. But it's getting there, thank yo uvery much. And there are agencies out there who certainly can, and will.

And what happened to free german crypto? I thought Germany had the only sane policy about crypto in the industrial world?

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

RSA7474 (1163263) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452621)

Lq prylhw uyvvld wkh mrolfh ghflskhu vrx! Hint: Caesar

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (2, Insightful)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452643)

Yeah I think they can't break the encryption, and not because they can't break the encryption itself. But if you read the article look at what it says.

>> Experts say Skype and other Voice over internet Protocol (VoIP) calling software are difficult to intercept because they work by breaking up voice data into small packets and switching them along thousands of router paths instead of a constant circuit between two parties, as with a traditional call.

That's the real problem. The packets are scattered all over the place and they can get a lock on the data. They probably can break the encryption but then they would only get piecemeal information sort like, "Plan " ... " meet " .... " blow " ... " place "... Which could mean "Plan A is to meet tomorrow and blow the place beside the train station... " OR "Plan to meet tomorrow at the new pub, and blow the old place like a pop stand." Same missing words, two entirely different meanings...

Interesting... You could develop an encryption where fifteen people talk and give pieces of the sentence and the meaning is only apparent when you piece everything together....

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452707)

It does not matter if the communication is encrypted and broken down into packets if all that is needed is to intercept the complete communication at one (or both) ends. Under Windows, this can probably be accomplished trivially, since most apps run with administrator privileges under most Windows machines. And, running as a Windows administrator, Skype will alter your firewall configuration [uwaterloo.ca] . Ooops.

What's more, most Internet packets these days pass through one of the MAE. And guess what? Most telecom companies who run the MAEs have agreed to cooperate with the NSA [eff.org] , including to the point they have built special facilities to allow NSA specialists to install eavesdropping equipment right there.

Finally, if you can intercept let's say 70% of a Skype communication, you probably have enough to determine if Alice and Bob should be put under further surveillance... Or maybe to disrupt their "nefarious" plans.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (2, Insightful)

deroby (568773) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452869)

WOOHOOOHOOO, I'm sooo scared now.

So what if Skype alters my Firewall settings : I 've strictly allowed it do do so !
(Tools Menu, Options, Advanced, Connection, [v] Allow Skype to modify my firewall settings)

Maybe the setting is on by default, not sure, but if it makes my Skype-experience any better, I don't see why I we have to 'create panic' like this ...
If you don't want any open ports, then don't install software that needs it in the first place, period.

Sigh.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452831)

I was thinking more along the lines of:

"Yeah we went to the Planetarium, she's a real meat eater. That night she gave me a blow-job back at my place!"

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452645)

"According to this article, our good friends at the NSA "may" have put backdoors in some of the technologies that could be used by Skype."

Roll your own, use a publicly available AES implementation, or Rijndael's original cipher. Also, the NSA aren't quite as clever as you think. Pretty good I'm sure, but the level of paranoia about them is nuts.

"And, then, according to this other article, it does not matter what technologies you use, if your CPU is wide open to analysis and crypto attacks."

Got any further details on that one? Sounds really interesting and I'd quite like to read the theory in more depth.

"And, of course, there is the question of using a 'secure' communication system on a completely insecure operating system, such as Windows."

There's no reason at all not to be able to do secure comms on windows. And if it's behind NAT then there's no reason that it should be compromised either. Any OS surely has the capability to intercept and record audio from the sound card, but will present different difficulties in gaining access and/or installing the software.

"the Bundespolizei (that's German police to you) may not have the means to decipher your skype communications right now. But it's getting there, thank yo uvery much"

I would dispute this. Unless they can come into your house and gain physical access to your PC whilst you're out.

"And there are agencies out there who certainly can, and will."

I don't think so.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452737)

Roll your own
but only if you want people to be able to spy on you.
 
 

use a publicly available AES implementation
And you are giving that suggestion to people who are so paranoid that they think NSA have put backdoors in AES.
 
 

or Rijndael's original cipher.
Which is in fact identical to AES. Except that the original supported more different block sizes.

Of course the entire idea that there is a backdoor in the cipher is absurd. In every single aspect of the cipher it was designed not to leave any freedoms that could be used to put a backdoor in it.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452793)

"Which is in fact identical to AES. Except that the original supported more different block sizes."

Oh I know, I just thought maybe the paranoid types might trust the cipher as issued by an academic rather than the one the US government eventually issued and accepted as AES!

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452767)

"According to this article, our good friends at the NSA "may" have put backdoors in some of the technologies that could be used by Skype."

Roll your own, use a publicly available AES implementation, or Rijndael's original cipher. Also, the NSA aren't quite as clever as you think. Pretty good I'm sure, but the level of paranoia about them is nuts.


They are clever enough to introduce trapdoors in something most people never even think of checking. Why? Because they understand the game: in crypto, it does not matter if your software is iron-clad if your random number generator has been compromised. And so on and so forth, all the way down to the bare metal.

Don't underestimate these guys: they have been working on that kind of problem for the past fifty years. Their British counterparts at GCHQ invented public key crypto [wired.com] several years before everybody else. They eat, drink, breathe, and smoke crypto and all kinds of telecom all day long because they are paid to do that. And their research budget is several times the budget of a small country. Paranoid? Sure, call me paranoid if you want, but if there is one organization that would be able to pull it off, it's NSA. And no, they are not interested in your privacy.

There's no reason at all not to be able to do secure comms on windows. And if it's behind NAT then there's no reason that it should be compromised either. Any OS surely has the capability to intercept and record audio from the sound card, but will present different difficulties in gaining access and/or installing the software.


Oh, please. Windows can be cracked, and has been cracked, simply by pointing at a compromised web page. Automated software installation -- totally transparent and invisible to the user -- is trivial. Do a google search on "worm" or "Storm worm" for the latest example. And don't get me started on NAT.

"the Bundespolizei (that's German police to you) may not have the means to decipher your skype communications right now. But it's getting there, thank you very much"

I would dispute this. Unless they can come into your house and gain physical access to your PC whilst you're out.


They don't even need to gain physical access. If they can trick you to a web page that contains a trojan, you are dead meat. Period.

"And there are agencies out there who certainly can, and will."

I don't think so.


You haven't been paying attention to the news, lately, haven't you?

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452833)

"Oh, please. Windows can be cracked, and has been cracked, simply by pointing at a compromised web page."

Yes, and you have to get me to do that. If I'm a terrorist that's concerned about my privacy, I'm not going to be visiting any websites that I get spammed with, and I'm most likely not using IE either.

"You haven't been paying attention to the news, lately, haven't you?"

Do enlighten me, I know the british government are trying to squeeze keys out of people who may not have them, but otherwise...

They are clever enough to introduce trapdoors in something most people never even think of checking. Why? Because they understand the game: in crypto, it does not matter if your software is iron-clad if your random number generator has been compromised. And so on and so forth, all the way down to the bare metal.

I have no doubt that they're good. I have a lot of doubts that there's much they can do against modern crypto. And the bare metal is not as important as you think. Back to AES - so long as your machine, whatever it is, isn't compromised and it can do the calculations correctly, you're safe. if you have shared the key with your correspondant in a secure (offline) way, and used a reasonable cipher feedback mode then there's not a single thing they can do if all they have is the data transmitted back and forth.

Sorry, I'm sure they are good, but the extreme reverence for these people is unwarranted.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452955)

I would dispute this. Unless they can come into your house and gain physical access to your PC whilst you're out.

When this was hot news in Germany the first thing that happened where Linux Live CDs with Skype preinstalled. This way it doesn't matter whether the OS on your hard disc is bugged.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

should_be_linear (779431) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452985)

Whoa? .... Shit! They just destroyed the grand ingenious plan to save Free World (tm) from Win32-API-based terrorist organizations. Well, there is still hope that Live CDs, Skype and Linux could become illegal too.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

Alphager (957739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452713)

Conclusion? Well, the Bundespolizei (that's German police to you)
Just nitpicking:
Police in Germany is split between federal and state-police. The states all have LKAs (Landes-Kriminal-Amt), the federal state has the BKA (Bundes-Kriminal-Amt) and the Bundespolizei.
The BKA is responsible for all inter-state crimes and the protection of german politicians. The Bundespolizei is responsible for securing the (nowadays non-existant) borders and Airports&Railways.


Ziercke (the man talking in the article) is head of the BKA.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452735)

the Bundespolizei (that's German police to you)

thanks for educating us with your towering intellect, you arrogant condescending cunt.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (1)

msormune (808119) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452965)

It does not help the attacker at all if he/she knows the encryption is based on those standards.

Re:Plenty of attacks left, thank you very much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452991)

According to this PDF document, Skype encryption is based on open standard (such as AES, SHA-1, etc).

According to this article, our good friends at the NSA "may" have put backdoors in some of the technologies that could be used by Skype.


You don't *need* a backdoor in AES to break Skype. Because Skype's security is more than just AES: it's key management and protocol handling and lots of other crap. *That* is where the backdoor will be.

Don't forget - a backdoor in AES could also be used by the Chinese version of the NSA. It doesn't make sense to deliberately cripple AES with a backdoor because that would ultimately defeat the purpose of using AES in the first place: to keep commercial secrets from criminals and foreign powers. It's much better to put a backdoor in the OS or applications of interest, because that backdoor can be protected against use by others.

yes, it's not rot13 (3, Funny)

borkee (661922) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452569)

and german police is not alan turing, obviously

Don't throw me in dat dere briar patch! (5, Funny)

fishdan (569872) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452585)

We cannot break Skype encryption, and we have publicly announced that, so it's perfectly safe for you to keep on using it! Really!

Re:Don't throw me in dat dere briar patch! (0, Redundant)

ms1234 (211056) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452769)

This is exactly what I would proclaim if I was able to decrypt the traffic and want users to think that I couldn't. Maybe not all whatever terrorists would fall for this but some would.

Re:Don't throw me in dat dere briar patch! (2, Insightful)

Fzz (153115) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452975)

This is exactly what I would proclaim if I was able to decrypt the traffic and want users to think that I couldn't. Maybe not all whatever terrorists would fall for this but some would.

But then again, maybe they're smarter than this. Maybe they really can't break it. But they want you to think they can break it, so they tell you they can't, because they know terrorists (and slashdotters) always expect the government to try and mislead them. Great way to undermine confidence in Skype in circles of suspicious users, without causing problems for the regular users. You obviously fell for it :-)

Re:Don't throw me in dat dere briar patch! (0, Redundant)

grand_it (949276) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452911)

We cannot break Skype encryption, and we have publicly announced that, so it's perfectly safe for you to keep on using it! Really!

Perhaps, it's the other way around: we broke Skype encryption, but publicly announce otherwise, so you'll keep on using it with misplaced trust.

Re:Don't throw me in dat dere briar patch! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452973)

...........

Wow. Speechless.

Intellectually surpassed? (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452591)

Encryption is about 4500 years old.

They enjoyed a short time of easy wiretapping and now we are back in an environment of secure communications. Well, tough luck, laws that infringe the privacy of your population can't help you now.

You can always cry "HAX" or call the waaambulance, I suppose.

Thats why I use skype (1)

XavidX (1117783) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452593)

I use skype because of the encryption. Its fast too. And sending files is quick as well even if i am behind a firewall. Unlike other messanger services I know of.

Re:Thats why I use skype (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452825)

You don't work for the British Government benefit agency then?

Snatch 2007 (4, Funny)

moro_666 (414422) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452595)

couldn't resist. this is just so "snatch" :

Turkish: F*ck me, hold tight. What's that?
Tommy: It's me belt, Turkish.
Turkish: No, Tommy. There's a Skype in your trousers. What's a Skype doing in your trousers?
Tommy: It's for protection.
Turkish: Protection from what? "Zee Germans"? ;-)

It's all about building trust.. (5, Interesting)

OlivierB (709839) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452599)

Oh noes, the police can't decipher Skype! We're all gonna die!
Yeah right.
If you are paying attention, Skype is incorporated in Luxembourg, which is part of the EU, just like Germany (they actually share borders).
Do you think the EU would allow for some European company to provide tools to "terrorists" without having eavesdropping ability?

Now for the real story; German Police is putting on a little show so people actually trust *more* the closed-source Skype software.

If the German Police had no way of eavesdropping they would either (a) Shut up about it or (b) Actually say they have supercomputers that can decipher anything (even if this is not true). (a) or (b) would create enough FUD for "terrorists" to actually distrust Skype as a communication medium.

This is all spin doctor speak, and I would never trust Skype for sensitivie material communications. The Zfone project http://zfoneproject.com/ [zfoneproject.com] is a much more secure system.

Re:It's all about building trust.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452701)

Now for the real story; German Police is putting on a little show so people actually trust *more* the closed-source Skype software.

If the German Police had no way of eavesdropping they would either (a) Shut up about it or (b) Actually say they have supercomputers that can decipher anything (even if this is not true). (a) or (b) would create enough FUD for "terrorists" to actually distrust Skype as a communication medium.
That is what they want you to think. It must be a double bluff, they want you to think that they want you to think it is secure so you will stop using it because they are actually not able to decrypt it.

Re:It's all about building trust.. (1)

Njovich (553857) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452709)

If you are paying attention, Skype is incorporated in Luxembourg, which is part of the EU, just like Germany (they actually share borders).
Do you think the EU would allow for some European company to provide tools to "terrorists" without having eavesdropping ability?
Yes.

Re:It's all about building trust.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452729)

No, they're putting on a little show so they can get public support for their online surveillance/trojan horse program. We actually get this and similar crap around once per week in our media.

In fact a few weeks ago a technical article appeared that suggested that there could already be a cooperation between the German federal police and Skype.

Re:It's all about building trust.. (1)

Sam Lowry (254040) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452977)

Skype has actually dedicated people for being points of contacts of the investigating bodies in their Luxembourg offices.

Is this a suprise? (1)

telchine (719345) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452605)

Is this at all suprising? It's the police, they're hardly high-tech. I wouldn't be suprised if they couldn't get into a PKzip passworded archive. ROT-13 would certainly baffle them.

Now, if it were the security services that couldn't get in, that would be more suprising.

Lost in Translation (2, Informative)

DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452953)

That's a translation problem. The agency in question here is the "Verfassungsschutz" (meaning, ironically, "Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution"), which is the German Version of the NSA (not that this name is any better). The submitter just couldn't be bothered to go through all that hassle and called it "the police".

Now, while the VS certainly doesn't have the means of the NSA, it is indeed a rather sophisticated service, and I am entirely convinced it is not beyond their means to employ really good security experts.

From someone on the list (1)

Eythian (552130) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452609)

This was mentioned on cypherpunks today, a reply was:

Caveat: Ziercke is a notorious liar and surveillance apologist.
Take that for what it's worth - I can't back it up nor disprove it.

Getting Through the Encryption Not the Story (2, Insightful)

segedunum (883035) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452651)

Getting through the encryption is not the story here. What they want to do is this:

"There are no discussions with Skype. I don't think that would help," he said, adding that he did not want to harm the competitiveness of any company. "I don't think that any provider would go for that."
If you are talking about getting to data after encryption, or before, why wouldn't you talk to Skype?

Ziercke said there was a vital need for German law enforcement agencies to have the ability to conduct on-line searches of computer hard drives of suspected terrorists using "Trojan horse" spyware.
This is completely unrelated to being able to tap encrypted communications. This is on a whole different level, and contravenes many laws brought into many countries for spyware and data protection.

These searches are especially important in cases where the suspects are aware that their internet traffic and phone calls may be monitored[?????!!!!!!] and choose to store sensitive information directly on their hard drives without emailing it.
God only knows what this means.

Ziercke said worries were overblown and that on-line searches would need to be conducted only on rare occasions.
How would they propose to do this, and get 'software' installed undetected?

"We currently have 230 proceedings related to suspected Islamists," Ziercke said. "I can imagine that in two or three of those we would like to do this."
Well, being an Islamist or belonging to some other group is not a crime, and I dare say if you searched many peopless hard drives for stuff about bombs and explosives then you could find something. That doesn't mean that they're going to do anything.

This is yet another old and decrepit security services organisation, worried about its future, worried about its funding, people who are worried about their jobs and worried about its place in the world.

Re:Getting Through the Encryption Not the Story (2, Insightful)

bhima (46039) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452853)

"Islamist" is newspeak for a militant extremist Muslim. In my mind, because it lacks militant or extremist, it is double plus ungood.

I hear it on the English language news broadcast in Austria / Germany all the time. Don't they use it in the US?

well derrrrrr (1)

yoshi3 (1118623) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452659)

It's the whole friggin point of the encrytion innit? If they need to listen in on crimminals skype calls why can't they make some sort of agreement with skype?

Really? (1)

pr0nbot (313417) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452669)

Maybe they're clever, and they can in fact decrypt it, but they want you to think they can't?

See if they can decypher this (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452675)

John has a large moustache. I repeat: John has a large moustache.

Re:See if they can decypher this (1)

laejoh (648921) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452733)

Hold on while I consult me hungarian phrase book!

Re:See if they can decypher this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452753)

Got it.
A légpárnás hajóm tele van angolnákkal.

Suspicious Minds (2, Insightful)

LordMidge (861667) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452699)

The first thing I though was if I could hack a telephone system out of many what would I do?
Tell everyone I can't and get as many people using that system so that I can listen in onto as many as possible.
I'll go put my tinfoil hat on again now.

creators' planet/population rescue kode is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21452759)

freely available. plus, there's never any payper liesense subscription fees, no cover charge & no encryption required. just pay attention, which is cost effective, & lessens the chances for further corepirate nazi bushwhackings. does anyone recall who hitler's favorite 'enemy' was? hint: it was 'terrorists'.

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&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv&oi=property_suggestions&resnum=0&ct=property-revision&cd=1

the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

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"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

take it with a grain of salt ... (1)

Lazy Jones (8403) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452787)

it's very likely that they can decrypt it or that they have access to some backdoor in Skype ... In other interviews (or other cited versions of the same?), Ziercke said that they hadn't talked to Skype yet about access to a backdoor.

Smells like BS to me (3, Insightful)

DrXym (126579) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452889)

Even assuming the crypto is perfect, the police would still be able to infer a lot from who is calling who. A terrorist communicating with another terrorist, shows they know each other, where they are in the world, what their calling routines are (frequency, time, who they call next), the length of conversation and so on. They might even be able to infer who is doing the most talking from the amount of traffic in each direction. All without knowing the actual conversation text.

And that assumes the crypto is perfect and the police / intelligence services are incapable of decrypting it, playing man in the middle, or failing that installing a trojan, or planting a bug, or listening through a wall or whatever.

It sounds like BS. Even perfect crypto gives them more information that they had to begin with. It sounds like they want to have their cake and eat it too.

Surely reporting this is counter productive (1)

pancakegeels (673199) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452943)

unless you just bought shares in Skype and are trying to break the as-yet untapped terrorist market.

I'm concerned about my uncles dog. (4, Insightful)

forgoil (104808) | more than 6 years ago | (#21452959)

Are they really thinking that they can thwart terrorists and such with this kind of surveillance? Any nonsense sentence can be a code to act, it's been used for ages. The idea of the intelligence organization sitting in cubicles and spying from a chair is bound to fail, and has failed many times over. So this is both useless, and effectively is spying on a countries citizens. This is what Stasi did, this is classic KGB, it smells of Gestapo, is this what we call freedom? Privacy is more important than it has ever been, and we will fight for it, and declaring war on your own people because they want their privacy is just as bad as the terrorists and the mafia.
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