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[liberationtech] Feds put heat on Web firms for master encryption keys

Andy Isaacson adi at
Thu Jul 25 12:05:41 PDT 2013

On Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 04:41:43AM -0700, Owen Barton wrote:
> > > If a government
> > > secretly aquired the SSL private keys for a site, and the site
> > > continued using them, then no convergence notary would know any
> > > cause not to vouch for the key.
> >
> > What helps here is perfect forward secrecy.
> Could you describe how PFS helps here - the article didnt mesh with my
> understanding here?
> My understanding was that PFS was primarily a defense against
> (non-real-time) cryptographic attacks on stored traffic - if PFS is not
> used the attacker could decrypt much more traffic with the same compute
> power, since the same session key is used for much more data, wheras with
> PFS the session is tiny, meaning that the attacker only gets a tiny bit of
> data for the same level of juice.

That's not an accurate simplification of how ECDHE key exchange works
under the eavesdropper+compelled-key-disclosure threat model.


Under standard RSA key exchange in TLS, the "session key" is encrypted
under a public/private keypair and sent over the link.


Under ECDHE key exchange in TLS, the two sides compute a shared secret
which is never sent over the link.  This is forward secure because once
the session key is deleted, there is not enough information to
reconstruct the session key, even given the private key.

Under RSA (non-"PFS"), a recording of the encrypted session can be
decrypted by the private key by recovering the session key.

Given the private key of a non-PFS session, decrypting a recording is
the same amount of work as participating in the encrypted session.
(Almost no work.)

Given the private key of a PFS session, decrypting the recording is the
same amount of work as brute-forcing the AES session key.  (An enormous
amount of work, far beyond the expected ability of Bluffdale still.)

However, if the wiretapper has the private key ahead of time and
performs an active MITM, the wiretapper can obviously perform a
decrypt-reencrypt hop and interpose on both PFS and non-PFS sessions.
This is much more expensive (in terms of operational costs, man-hours,
and risk of catastrophic disclosure of the captured private keys).


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