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E-mail encryption systems 'irreparably broken' - German researchers

Computer encryption E-mail encryption systems 'irreparably broken' - German researchers
Kristine Garrett | 14 May, 2018, 18:27

The warning comes from a group of security researchers in Europe, from Münster University, Ruhr-University, and KU Leuven University, and its members have previously revealed the Drown attack that affected some 11 million HTTPS sites back in 2016.

One of the researchers who discovered the exploit said in a tweet that there are no reliable fixes for the vulnerability.

Email is no longer a secure communication medium.

PGP is a type of email encryption. To create these exfiltration channels, the attacker first needs access to the encrypted emails, for example, by eavesdropping on network traffic, compromising email accounts, email servers, backup systems or client computers.

The EFF appears to have seen the research and has published its own blog post advising users to stop sending and - in particular - decrypting PGP/GPG-encrypted emails until the issues are more widely understood and fixed.

An EFF advisory says "these vulnerabilities pose an immediate risk to those using these tools for email communication, including the potential exposure of the contents of past messages".

The Electronic Frontier Foundation -which researchers contacted to help them broadcast their message to a broader audience- has published tutorials on how to disable email encryption plugins. The new e-mail would embed portions of the cipertext in places that often aren't displayed by Thunderbird, Mail, Outlook, and more than two-dozen other e-mail programs.

The use of PGP for secure communications has been advocated, among others, by Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on pervasive electronic surveillance at the US National Security Agency before fleeing to Russian Federation.

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

Security researchers have found vulnerabilities in some of the email encryption software. However, the researchers have confirmed the exploitable vulnerabilities only exist for email users. To prevent a breach, the BSI said that users needed to secure access to their mailboxes and prevent their email clients from loading HTML code from external websites.

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