CAT | Cryptography
The Massachusetts High Court recently ruled that a suspect can be compelled to decrypt disks, files, and devices which have been seized by law enforcement. The crux of the question before the court was whether compelling the password for decryption is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination.
The analogy one most often sees is to being compelled to provide the combination to a safe, the contents of which are subject to a search warrant. That is well settled law, you can be compelled to do so.
The court said:
We now conclude that the answer
to the reported question is, “Yes, where the defendant’s compelled decryption would not
communicate facts of a testimonial nature to the Commonwealth beyond what the defendant
already had admitted to investigators.” Accordingly, we reverse the judge’s denial of the
Commonwealth’s motion to compel decryption.
In this case, there was nothing testimonial about decrypting the files because the defendant has already admitted to owning the computers and devices, and to being able to decrypt them.
The much more interesting situation will come in a case where the defendants say they never had, or have forgotten, the password. One can not be compelled to do something impossible, but generally the proof of the impossibility falls on the defendant. In this case one would have to prove a negative. How could you prove that you don’t have the password? The only thing that can be proved is that you do, and that only by doing so.
This ruling is only binding in the sate of Massachusetts, but is likely to be influential in cases in other areas.
Steve Gibson shares recent messages exchanges with some of the developers of TrueCrypt. These further suggest a boring explanation of the shutdown, as opposed to more nefarious explanations.
For years, TrueCrypt has been the gold standard open source whole disk encryption solution. Now there is a disturbing announcement on the TrueCrypt website. Right at the top it says “WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues”.
The rest of the page has been changed to a notice that development on TrueCrypt stopped this May, and directions for migrating from TrueCrypt to BitLocker, the disk encryption tool built in to Windows. Of course, this is of little help to anyone using TrueCrypt on Mac or Linux. It is still possible to download TrueCrypt from the site, but the code now will not create new vaults, and warns users to migrate to a new platform.
There are certainly alternatives, but this is a real shock. On Mac, one could always use the built in FileVault tool. Linux users may have a harder time finding a good replacement.
The big question is, what the heck is actually going on here. This is all far too cryptic, with no where near enough actual information to draw intelligent conclusions.
A recent independent audit of TrueCrypt discovered “no evidence of backdoors or otherwise intentionally malicious code in the assessed areas.”
There are a number of theories about what is going on ranging from credulous to paranoid.
- Like Lavabit, they received a National Security Letter requiring compromise of the code. This is their way of resisting without violating the gag order.
- They have been taken over by the government, and they are trying to force everyone to move to a less secure / more compromised solution.
- There really is a gigantic hole in the code. Releasing a fix would tell attackers the exact nature of the vulnerability, which most people would take a very long time to address. Having everyone migrate is the safest solution.
- Some personal conflict within the TrueCrypt developers is leading to a “take my ball and go home” action.
- The developers only cared about protecting windows users with XP or earlier, which did not have the built in disk encryption. Now that XP support has ended, they don’t feel it is valuable any more. This is suggested by the full wording of the announcement.
- The website or one of the developer’s computers was compromised, and this is a hack / hoax.
The whole thing is really odd, and it is not yet obvious what the best course of action might be.
The safest option appears to be to remove TrueCrypt, and replace it with some other solution, either one that is built in to the OS, or from a third party.
Attorney General’s new war on encrypted web services – Security – Technology – News – iTnews.com.au
Australia’s Attorney-General’s department is proposing that all providers of Internet services ensure that they can decrypt user communications when so ordered. Any services where the provider has the keys will obviously be able to do this.
Australians may want to start to start taking steps to protect themselves now.
End to end encryption is your friend. At least that way, you need to be informed and compelled if they want access to your data.
Another important step is to get your “in the clear” communications into another jurisdiction using a VPN service like Anonymizer Universal.
Finally, let your voice be heard on this issue by reaching out to your members of parliament.