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[liberationtech] What I've learned from Cryptocat

Brian Conley brianc at
Wed Aug 8 11:57:35 PDT 2012

Hi all,

I've been trying to decide how to weigh in on this thread, I'm sure some of
you are surprised its taken me this long to jump in.

That said, I'll keep this brief, because I'm going to write up more
detailed thoughts on a blog post that I'll share with the list.

The first issue I see is related to this succinct comment from Michael:

That's only speculation on my part, of course. But if it's right, it
> raises a difficult question: how do we maintain rigorous standards of
> critique within the information security community, without giving
> potential users of our tools the counterproductive impression that
> nothing works and you might as well give up?

The number one issue I see here is the culture of what i call "geek rage"
"fear mongering" and "black and white response"

First let me say I think this is *getting better*. However, it stands that
there are *many* privacy/security tools with fairly significant flaws. I'm
writing a security curriculum at the moment for a new mobile reporting app
that SWN is creating. In the process I've begun to see bevy of flaws in
tools that I myself misunderstood previously.

A few of these tools are Truecrypt, TextSecure, OTR clients, and of course

I think there is a lack of clarity about "safety" and "security" as well as
numerous other semantic problems with the way security experts, trainers,
and researchers present tools.

Truecrypt's issue with journaling filesystems is a flaw that many of the
members of the list are no doubt aware of. I however was not aware of this
serious issue. The Protektor Services and FrontlineDefenders Digital
Privacy manuals do not cover this issue, yet TrueCrypt is now  considered a
standard tool by most organizations doing training. I recently assisted an
"internet freedom" training on TrueCrypt, yet I was unaware, which means
even if the issue was covered(I am fairly certain it was not) it wasn't
covered well enough that I, a relatively knowledgeable user, picked up on

Cryptocat's web interface as has been clearly described is only as secure
as SSL/TLS and the lack of a keylogger. However, the implication of this
discussion is that a MITM  attack or having my IP address is enough to
identify me. I am sure most of you don't believe this, however that is the
implication of your talk.

The primary issue comes down to the semantics and lack of clarity in

I think this could be solved by recruiting more people with strong writing
skills and a focus on training methodology, and perhaps starting to host
roundtables and dinners with the technologists in the group. I would love
to have been at dinner with Nadim Jacob et al. I think this could be solved
by creating an open consortium of technology researchers, trainers, and

Last point, I agree we are helped by a diversity of manuals, but a lack of
clear standards is frustrating. Furthermore, I'm certainly not satisfied
with the guides that exist, which is why I am still working on crafting new
manuals, however the curriculum I'm currently producing is essentially an
effort to edit and collate the best elements of the existing manuals. I
hope this will result in a hybrid that still answers a lot of needs, but
does it in a more user-friendly fashion.


On Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 10:22 AM, Michael Rogers <michael at>wrote:

> Hash: SHA1
> On 07/08/12 06:19, frank at wrote:
> > How many people on this list have spent time asking
> > non-technologists and other users who have tried, but have since
> > given up even trying to use tools like PGP? Or have examined how
> > new users interact with such tools? I have a great deal of respect
> > for this community. But to be honest it seems to me that neither
> > the technologists nor the donors have spent much time asking such
> > questions.
> Hi Frank,
> I'd just like to make an anecdotal point here. A few months ago I
> spent an interesting afternoon talking to some activists in the UK
> about what communication tools they use for what tasks.
> None of them regularly used PGP, Tor, or disk encryption software, but
> the reasons they gave had nothing to do with usability. They were
> aware of the tools and knew how to use them, but they didn't believe
> that doing so provided any practical security benefits. They believed
> that encryption software probably contained backdoors and could be
> defeated by keyloggers. They'd seen evidence trails from computers and
> phones produced in court, and rather than relying on technology to
> solve technology's problems, some of them preferred to avoid
> electronic communication altogether for secret work.
> It's tempting to say they were right and leave it at that. Keep your
> secrets away from your gadgets and your gadgets away from your
> secrets. But that wasn't what they were actually doing. They all
> carried phones, even though they knew they were being tracked and
> possibly bugged. They all had email accounts, and some of them used
> mailing lists and forums for planning, even though they knew that if a
> keylogger could get their encryption passwords it could get everything
> else they typed. Why the apparent inconsistency?
> One possible interpretation is that they were assessing encryption
> tools with a typical information security mindset: if there's any weak
> point, the adversary will exploit it, so the strong points are
> irrelevant. But they were assessing other techniques with a more
> balanced mindset: weigh up the risks and potential benefits, compare
> the available alternatives, and choose the best (or the least bad).
> That's only speculation on my part, of course. But if it's right, it
> raises a difficult question: how do we maintain rigorous standards of
> critique within the information security community, without giving
> potential users of our tools the counterproductive impression that
> nothing works and you might as well give up?
> Cheers,
> Michael
> Version: GnuPG v1.4.10 (GNU/Linux)
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> =mHhw
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Brian Conley

Director, Small World News

m: 646.285.2046

Skype: brianjoelconley

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