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[liberationtech] PrivateSky Takedown

Steve Weis steveweis at
Fri Dec 13 09:23:58 PST 2013

PrivateSky came up on libtech two and a half years ago:

At the time, it was already clear Certivox had a root key that issued
customer keys:

They claim that it would have been "almost impossible" to recover
messages. You should interpret "almost impossible" as "possible".

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 9:07 AM, Yosem Companys <companys at> wrote:
> Certivox Asked That We Share Their Side of the Story on the PrivateSky Takedown.
> YC
> The real story on the PrivateSky takedown.
> Posted by Brian Spector on Thu, Dec 12, 2013
> With the story about our PrivateSky takedown now public, I want to
> take the opportunity to clarify a few points in various articles that
> have appeared since yesterday covering the story.
> Some headlines strongly infer our friends at GCHQ "forced" us to take
> PrivateSky down. That's not the case.
> Secondly, a very important point wasn't printed. GCHQ couldn't, by
> law, request a blanket back door on the system. There are a very rigid
> set of controls that mean only specific individuals can come under
> surveillance. The legal request for such surveillance has a due
> process that must be stridently followed. At no time did I or anyone
> at CertiVox talk about CertiVox in relation to any RIPA warrant, only
> the generic process by which these warrants are served.
> By saying "our friends at GCHQ", there is no facetiousness intended.
> The team at CertiVox have the upmost respect for the folks we
> interacted with at GCHQ. They took the due process I outlined in the
> previous point very seriously. We found that as an organisation, and
> every individual involved there, were as worried about a breach of
> public trust as much as we are.
> Finally, I believe very strongly the following should be a larger part
> of the public discourse of these subjects. What everyone needs to
> understand is that every developed democracy in the world, even where
> privacy rights are enshrined to the maximum efficacy by statute, has
> laws on the books that mandate that Internet Service Providers have
> facilities to work with law enforcement for the purposes of legal
> intercept, to enforce public safety and security.
> Being L.I. capable is a very important set features and functions that
> must be in place for any credible, commercial service on the Internet.
> In endeavouring to make PrivateSky as secure as possible, we
> overlooked this critical requirement when we built PrivateSky.
> When CertiVox positioned PrivateSky as the easiest to use and most
> secure encrypted messaging service, we really had two significant
> points of differentiation. First, even though we held the root
> encryption keys to the system, it was architected in such as way that
> it would have been all but impossible for our internal staff to snoop
> on our customer's communications, or for the service to leak any of
> our customer¹s data. Secondly, our possession of the root keys, and
> our use of identity based encryption, made the system incredibly easy
> to use. For the user, there were no private or public keys to manage,
> every workflow was handled for the user in an easy to grasp pure HTML5
> interface, no hardware or software required, just an HTML5 browser.
> We boxed ourselves into a feature set and market position that when
> called upon to comply with legal statues, we simply had no alternative
> but to shut the service down. We built it, but we couldn't host it.
> Why? Because as you can probably surmise, there is an inherent
> impedance mismatch between being able to host a commercial
> communications service that gives the upmost in privacy to its users,
> against any breach, whilst at the same time being able to operate
> safely within the confines of the law as it is on the books in most
> countries on the planet.
> In summary, it's the abuse of the communications interception in the
> Snowden revelations that has everyone up in arms, as so it should. But
> that¹s not what happened with PrivateSky.
> What is our next move?
> Watch this space.
> --
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