PGP Email has Critical Flaw

15 May, 2018, 16:20 | Author: Rolando Keller
  • Edward Snowden

However, there is some debate as to how serious the issues are. Ars will have much more coverage of the efail vulnerabilities, and the researchers have more information here. It was developed by RSA Data Security and is now built into most modern email software. Users can employ PGP-compatible email clients themselves, and many secure webmail clients also make use of PGP.

This includes Enigmail for Thunderbird, GPGTools for Apple Mail and Gpg4win for Outlook which all offer to decrypt emails on the fly.

Why this should be taken seriously is because the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is also spreading the word.

Email Vulnerable: The internet's two most popular forms of encryption over the net - PGP and S/MIME-vulnerable to hacks that can reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails and messages, according to researcher Sebastian Schinzel, a professor of computer security with M√ľnster University of Applied Sciences. Encrypting messages is still safer than not encrypting them-EFAIL basically just lets attackers read messages they've already compromised in some other way-but it's still not enough to truly protect the contents of those emails. Long term, comprehensively patching this particular vulnerability will require an update to the underlying email encryption standards.

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In other words, once hackers gain access to your emails, they can use the HTML tags in your emails to prompt mail clients to erroneously decrypt those emails in a way that hackers can access. The expert said that the attackers using these programs can "access" not only to intercepted letters, but all are ever sent.

When the person opens the email on their local client, it will attempt to fetch the URL to load the image. If it's not, GnuPG returns an alert.

This is possible because of a basic flaw of end-to-end encryption, they add. "This is a pretty old thing which we are aware of, and the reasons why a warning has always been printed in that case". In addition, "use authenticated encryption". Koch for instance said that OpenPGP's message authentication that thwarts EFAIL (in place since 2001) can't be made mandatory because "some implementations haven't kept up". Copy and paste the encrypted text into separate programs to decrypt the text. But the authors state that they have "disclosed the vulnerabilities to all affected email vendors, and to national CERTs and our findings were confirmed by these bodies". To help users, the organization has even posted guides on how to disable PGP in Thunderbird, Outlook and Apple Mail. "It seems to not be easily reproducible in all cases".

After the embargo on releasing details about the vulnerability was lifted, Mr Schinzel and colleagues published their research revealing how the attack on PGP emails worked.

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