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[liberationtech] DecryptoCat

Patrick Mylund Nielsen cryptography at patrickmylund.com
Tue Jul 9 09:44:19 PDT 2013


Sorry, when I wrote "scare normal users away from e.g. MSN", I meant "scare
normal users away from switching from e.g. MSN"


On Tue, Jul 9, 2013 at 12:31 PM, Patrick Mylund Nielsen <
cryptography at patrickmylund.com> wrote:

> > What I hear from you is a common idea: it is the idea is that people
> who don't build those systems don't have a right to voice negative or critical
> views.
>
> Absolutely not. If this is how I came across, I apologize.
>
> Let me try to express myself a little more clearly, and not via a phone.
> Your second reply resonated quite well with my underlying thoughts.
>
> > When we degrade others for their criticisms by suggesting that they
> only get to speak if they've met some arbitrary bar for entry is dis-empowering.
> I know that we all do this but perhaps it isn't the best way to move
> forward?
>
> To be clear, the only thing I take objection to in this thread are the
> snarky, semi-arrogant replies that imply that e.g. Veracode's code reviews
> are useless, and that all the developers behind X are incompetent, while
> not actually providing a lot of constructive commentary. (Admittedly, I am
> already slightly annoyed from reading other comment threads about this same
> issue where the response was a fairly unanimous "Omg, Cryptocat sucks! What
> a bunch of amateurs!", so this is more of a response to that collectively
> than to the comments of Maxim, specifically. That being said, I care very
> little for arguments from authority, unless they make sense.) There may
> be a language barrier, but despite being a non-native speaker myself, the
> comments still came across quite negatively.
>
> By no means should Cryptocat be immune to criticism--it's clear that it
> isn't--and there is no reason why somebody with knowledge on a subject
> can't comment on deficiencies, even if they don't make a competitor, or
> prove that they are able to. But there are several ways to do so--a few
> that I've seen recently in connection with Cryptocat are: 1. To turn to
> the developers of the software and/or contributing to the software itself,
> 2. By flaming the software and its authors on mailing lists and on blogs,
> in discussions that are most closely analogous to "lol, noobs.", and 3. A
> combination: finding vulnerabilities, informing the developers, and posting
> about it on blogs with added opinions that all the developers are
> incompetent.
>
> Obviously, I think #1 is the most useful. #3, while harsh, still is, since
> the vulnerabilities will inevitably be patched, whether or not you provide
> a solution. (Indeed, the history of responsible disclosure shows that this
> is often the only way to get something fixed.) #2 is entirely useless, in
> my opinion. So when I say "if it's so easy, make a better one", I really
> mean "why don't you switch from #2 to either #1 or #3."
>
> There obviously is a limit: where the authors of a piece of software are
> so incompetent, or the software is so badly written, that it should be
> avoided at all costs. I don't think that Nadim, et al, and Cryptocat are at
> or past that point, for several reasons:
>
>   - They very clearly communicate that this is experimental software, that
> you shouldn't put your life on the line using it, and that it hasn't
> undergone a lot of scrutiny
>   - Whenever there's been a new feature or new release, the main request
> from the authors themselves has been that people take a look at it and come
> to them if they see any problems. The authors recognize that they are not
> infallible experts on the subject. (Contrast with Silent Circle where their
> whole argument is that "we are crypto experts and Navy SEALs, and you
> should trust our closed source software", but the software still has
> serious problems.)
>   - Cryptocat is helping bring OTR to the masses
>
> > I'm not sure if you're away but Maxim did exactly this many years ago.
> > He wrote a system called cables:
>
> I was aware of its existence, although I'll admit I haven't used it
> recently.
>
> While I appreciate and recognize your description of its ease-of-use, I
> will say that I think most people aren't going to run a custom Linux
> distribution to communicate securely--and when I say most people, I mean
> "the masses", not liberationtech. Which leads me to my main point...
>
> > Usability is absolutely critical - but we're not looking to build
> usable software without any security - if we were, we'd all be using
> Facetime, Skype, GChat and so on, without any complaints.
>
> This is where your reply is in agreement with what was (granted, deeply)
> between the lines of my initial replies, where I continuously highlighted
> usability as a critical feature.
>
> I want secure software. I want something that lets me communicate with
> others securely. But when I, a fairly paranoid person by my own judgement,
> and somebody who writes cryptography and privacy software for a living,
> disable my Android device encryption because it doesn't let you use
> something other than the encryption passphrase to unlock the screen (even
> though it doesn't actually dismount the disk when the screen is locked), or
> use Skype and GChat to communicate with my friends because most other means
> are just too cumbersome, I have to recognize that security, even perfect
> secrecy, is completely useless if nobody is actually making use of it.
>
> Cryptocat is a worthwhile effort, if only for this reason: It has a fair
> amount of users, and it's helping popularize a very secure means of
> communication, OTR. It has implementation errors--almost all security
> software has--but the authors are well-meaning, transparent, and open to
> constructive criticism. When a project like that has traction, you support
> it if you genuinely care about user privacy. You don't berate it and scare
> normal users away from e.g. MSN, indirectly maintaining the status quo.
>
> > While Cryptocat has OTR - the multi-party communication is not the OTR
> protocol.
>
> Yes, I know. I was just saying that if it's incredibly easy to develop a
> secure Cryptocat alternative, that's what it takes. If I'm not mistaken,
> the bugs that we are discussing all apply to (only) the multiparty chat
> component of Cryptocat, not the OTR one.
>
> > On three computers near me, I see it using non-forward secret modes today
> - SSL_RSA_WITH_RC4_128_SHA - this isn't good news.
>
> I agree that this is bad, and I think the way you went about highlighting
> this was positive and constructive.
>
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