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The Feasibility of Breaking PGP

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	PGP is the most widely used hybrid cryptosystem around today.  There 
have been AMPLE rumours regarding it's security (or lack there of).  There 
have been rumours ranging from PRZ was coerced by the Gov't into placing 
backdoors into PGP, that the NSA has the ability to break RSA or IDEA in a 
reasonable amount of time, and so on.  While I cannot confirm or deny these 
rumours with 100% certianty, I really doubt that either is true.  This FAQ 
while not in the 'traditional FAQ format' answers some questions about the 
security of PGP, and should clear up some rumours...

	This FAQ is also available from the web:

			[ The Feasibility of Breaking PGP ]
			     [ The PGP attack FAQ ]
			    2/96         v. 2.0 

	      by infiNity [[email protected] / [email protected]]

			-- [Brief introduction] --

	There are a great many misconceptions out there about how 
	vulnerable Pretty Good Privacy is to attack.  This FAQ is designed
	to shed some light on the subject.  It is not an introduction to
	PGP or cryptography.  If you are not at least conversationally 
	versed in either topic, readers are directed to The Infinity Concept
	issue 1, and the sci.crypt FAQ.  Both documents are available via
	ftp from  This document can be found there
	as well:

	PGP is a hybrid cryptosystem.  It is made up of 4 cryptographic 
	elements: It contains a symmetric cipher (IDEA), an asymmetric cipher 
	(RSA), a one-way hash (MD5), and a random number generator (Which is 
	two-headed, actually:  it samples entropy from the user and then
	uses that to seed a PRNG).  Each is subject to a different form of 

			1 -- [The Symmetric Cipher] -- 1

	IDEA, finalized in 1992 by Lai and Massey is a block cipher that
	operates on 64-bit blocks of data.  There have been no advances
	in the cryptanalysis of standard IDEA that are publically known.
	(I know nothing of what the NSA has done, nor does most anyone.) 
	The only method of attack, therefore, is brute force.  

	-- Brute Force of IDEA --       

	As we all know the keyspace of IDEA is 128-bits.  In base 10 
	notation that is: 

	To recover a particular key, one must, on average, search half the 
	keyspace.  That is 127 bits: 
	If you had 1,000,000,000 machines that could try 1,000,000,000 
	keys/sec, it would still take all these machines longer than the 
	universe as we know it has existed and then some, to find  the key.  
	IDEA, as far as present technology is concerned, is not vulnerable to 
	brute-force attack, pure and simple.

	-- Other attacks against IDEA --

	If we cannot crack the cipher, and we cannot brute force the 
	key-space, what if we can find some weakness in the PRNG used
	by PGP to generate the psuedo-random IDEA session keys?  This
	topic is covered in more detail in section 4.

			2 -- [The Asymmetric Cipher] -- 2

	RSA, the first full fledged public key cryptosystem was designed
	by Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman in 1977.  RSA gets it's security from
	the apparent difficulty in factoring very large composites.
	However, nothing has been proven with RSA.  It is not proved
	that factoring the public modulous is the only (best) way to 
	break RSA.  There may be an as yet undiscovered way to break it.
	It is also not proven that factoring *has* to be as hard as it is.  
	There exists the possiblity that an advance in number theory may lead
	to the discovery of a polynomial time factoring algorithm.  But, none 
	of these things has happened, and no current research points in that 
	direction.  However, 3 things that are happening and will continue
	to happen that take away from the security of RSA are: the advances 
	in factoring technique, computing power and the decrease in the 
	cost of computing hardware.  These things, especially the first one, 
	work against the security of RSA.  However, as computing power 
	increases, so does the ability to generate larger keys.  It is *much* 
	easier to multiply very large primes than it is to factor the 
	resulting composite (given today's understanding of number theory).
	-- The math of RSA in 7 fun-filled steps --

	To understand the attacks on RSA, it is  important to understand
	how RSA works.  Briefly:
	  - Find 2 very large primes, p and q.
	  - Find n=pq (the public modulous).
	  - Choose e, such that e<n and relatively prime to (p-1)(q-1).
	  - Compute d=e^-1 mod[(p1-)(q-1)]  OR  ed=1[mod (p-1)(q-1)].
	  - e is the public exponent and d is the private one.
	  - The public-key is (n,e), and the private key is (n,d).
	  - p and q should never be revealed, preferably destroyed (PGP
	    keeps p and q to speed operations by use of the Chinese Remainder
	    Theorem, but they are kept encrypted)

	  Encryption is done by dividing the target message into blocks
	  smaller than n and by doing modular exponentiation:  

		c=m^e mod n
	  Decryption is simply the inverse operation:
		m=c^d mod n 

	-- Brute Force RSA Factoring --

	An attacker has access to the public-key.  In other words, the
	attacker has e and n.  The attacker wants the private key.  In 
	other words the attacker wants d.  To get d, n needs to be 
	factored (which will yield p and q, which can then be used to
	calculate d).  Factoring n is the best known attack against RSA to
	date.  (Attacking RSA by trying to deduce (p-1)(q-1) is no easier 
	than factoring n, and executing an exhaustive search for values of d
	is harder than factoring n.)  Some of the algorithms used for 
	factoring are as follows:

	- Trial division:  The oldest and least efficient.  Exponential 
	running time.  Try all the prime numbers <= sqrt(n).

	- Quadratic Sieve (QS):  The fastest algorithm for numbers smaller 
	than 110 digits.

	- Multiple Polynomial Quadratic Sieve (MPQS):  Faster version of QS.

	- Double Large Prime Variation of the MPQS:  Faster still.

	- Number Field Sieve (NFS):  Currently the fastest algorithm known for
	numbers larger than 110 digits.  Was used to factor the ninth Fermat 

	These algorithms represent the state of the art in warfare against
	large composite numbers (therefore agianst RSA).  The best algorithms 
	have a super-polynomial (sub-exponential) running time, with the NFS 
	having an asypmtotic time estimate closest to polynomial behaivior.
	Still, factoring large numbers is hard.  However, with the advances 
	in number theory and computing power, it is getting easier.  In 1977
	Ron Rivest said that factoring a 125-digit number would take
	40 quadrillion years.  In 1994 RSA129 was factored using about
	5000 MIPS-years of effort from idle CPU cycles on computers across 
	the Internet for eight months.  In 1995 the Blacknet key (116 digits) 
	was factored using about 400 MIPS-years of effort (1 MIPS-year is
	a 1,000,000 instruction per second computer running for one year)
	from several dozen workstations and a MasPar for about three months.  
	Given current trends the keysize that can be factored will only 
	increase as time goes on.  The table below estimates the effort
	required to factor some common PGP-based RSA public-key modulous
	lengths using the General Number Field Sieve:

		KeySize         MIPS-years required to factor
		512                     30,000
		768                     200,000,000
		1024                    300,000,000,000
		2048                    300,000,000,000,000,000,000

	The next chart shows some estimates for the equivalences in brute
	force key searches of symmetric keys and brute force factoring 
	of asymmetric keys, using the NFS.

		Symmetric                       Asymmetric
		56-bits                         384-bits
		64-bits                         512-bits
		80-bits                         768-bits
		112-bits                        1792-bits
		128-bits                        2304-bits

	It was said by the 4 men who factored the Blacknet key that 
	"Organizations with 'more modest' resources can almost certainly
	break 512-bit keys in secret right now."  This is not to say
	that such an organization would be interested in devoting so
	much computing power to break just anyone's messages.  However, most
	people using cryptography do not rest comfortably knowing the
	system they trust their secrets to can be broken...  

	My advice as always is to use the largest key allowable by the 
	implementation.  If the implementation does not allow for large 
	enough keys to satisfy your paranoia, do not use that implementation.

	-- PGP's Handling of Prime Numbers --

	RSA gets it's security from the presumed difficulty in factoring
	large prime numbers.  So, PGP needs some way of generating large
	prime numbers.  As it turns out, there is no way to feasibly 
	generate large primes.  So, what PGP does,is generate large odd
	numbers and test them for primality.  
	By the way, there *are* in fact, an infinite amount of prime numbers.  
	Probably more than you would first suspect.  The prime number theorem 
	gives a useful approximation for the prime distribution function 
	PI(n); which specifies the number of primes <=n:
		n -->  infinity PI(n) / [ n / (ln (n) )] == 1

	So, the approximation n/ln n gives with reasonable accuracy, the
	density of primes less than or equal to n:

		There are 17 prime numbers from 1-60.  

			60 / ln(60) = 14.65

		An error of about 8% (this is not linear, however).

	To test a candidate number (n) for primality, one obvious and simple
	method is to try trial divisions.  Try dividing n by each integer
	2,3,...,sqrt(n).  If n is prime, none of the trial divisors will 
	divide it.  Assuming each division takes constant time, this method 
	has a worst case running time (if n is in fact prime) proportional to
	exponential, in the length of n.  If n is non-trivial (which is the
	case for the PGP's candidate numbers) this approach is not feasible
	(this is also why trial division is not a viable method of attack
	against RSA).  (Trial divsion has the one advantage of determining the
	prime factorization of n, however.  But who wants to wait till the
	Universe explodes (implodes)?) 
	-- Psuedo-Primality --

	In order to test non-trivial candidates, PGP uses psuedo-primality
	testing.  Psuedo-primality tests take a candidate number and test
	it for primality, returning with a certian degree of accuracy, whether
	or not it's prime.  PGP uses the 4 Fermat Tests to test the numbers
	for primality. 

	-- The Four Fermat Tests --

	- Candidate number to be tested for primality: n.
	- Take the first 4 prime numbers b={2,3,5,7}
	- Take b^(n-1) % n = w
	- If w == 1; for all b, n is probably prime.  Any other number and n is 
	  definitely not prime.  

	While it *is* possible for a number to be reported as being prime 
	when it is in reality a composite, it is very unlikely.  After each 
	successful test the likelyhood drops dramatically, after one test, 
	the likelyhood is 1 in 10^13, after  two tests, the likelyhood is 
	1 in 10^26, and if the number passes all four tests, the possibility
	of it not being prime is 1 in 10^52.  The 4 Fermat Tests will *not* 
	discard a prime number.

	-- The Carmichael Numbers --
	Unfortunately, there are some numbers which are *not* prime, that
	do satisfy the equation b^(n-1) % n.  These integers are known as
	The Carmichael Numbers, and are quite rare (the reason being because
	a Carmichael Number must not be divisable by the square of any prime
	and must be the product of at least three primes).  The first 
	three Carmichael Numbers are: 561, 1105, and 1729.  They are so rare,
	in fact, there are only 255 of them less than 10^9.  The chance of
	PGP generating a Carmichael Number is less than 1 in 10^50.  

	-- Esoteric RSA attacks --      

	These attacks do not exhibit any profound weakness in RSA itself,
	just in certian implementations of the protocol.  Most are not
	issues in PGP.
	-- Choosen cipher-text attack --
	An attacker listens in on the insecure channel in which RSA
	messages are passed.  The attacker collects an encrypted message
	c, from the target (destined for some other party).  The attacker
	wants to be able to read this message without having to mount a
	serious factoring effort.  In other words, she wants m=c^d.

	To recover m, the attacker first chooses a random number, r<n.
	(The attacker has the public-key (e,n).)  The attacker computes:

		x=r^e mod n (She encrypts r with the target's public-key)
		y=xc mod n (Multiplies the target ciphertext with the temp)
		t=r^-1 mod n (Multiplicative inverse of r mod n)
	The attacker counts on the fact property that:
		If x=r^e mod n, Then r=x^d mod n
	The attacker then gets the target to sign y with her private-key,
	(which actually decrypts y) and sends u=y^d mod n to the
	attacker.  The attacker simply computes:

	tu mod n = (r^-1)(y^d) mod n = (r^-1)(x^d)(c^d) mod n = (c^d) mod n 
				= m

	To foil this attack do not sign some random document presented to 
	you.  Sign a one-way hash of the message instead.

	-- Low encryption exponent e --

	As it turns out, e being a small number does not take away from the
	security of RSA.  If the encryption exponent is small (common values
	are 3,17, and 65537) then public-key operations are significantly
	faster.  The only problem in using small values for e  as a public 
	exponent is in encrypting small messages.  If we have 3 as our e
	and we have an m smaller than the cubic root of n, then the message
	can be recovered simply by taking the cubic root of m beacuse:  

		m [for m<= 3rdroot(n)]^3 mod n will be equivalent to m^3

		and therefore:

		3rdroot(m^3) = m.

	To defend against this attack, simply pad the message with a nonce
	before encryption, such that m^3 will always be reduced mod n.  
	PGP uses a small e for the encryption exponent, by default it tries 
	to use 17.  If it cannot compute d with e being 17, PGP will iterate
	e to 19, and try again...  PGP also makes sure to pad m with a random 
	value so m > n. 

	-- Timing attack against RSA --

	A very new area of attack publically discovered by Paul Kocher deals 
	with the fact that different cryptographic operations (in this case
	the modular exponentiation operations in RSA) take discretely different
	amounts of time to process.  If the RSA computations are done without
	the Chinese Remainder theorem, the following applies:

	An attacker can exploit slight timing differences in RSA computations 
	to, in many cases, recover d.  The attack is a passive one where the 
	attacker sits on a network and is able to observe the RSA operations. 

	The attacker passively observes k operations measuring the time t
	it takes to compute each modular exponentation operation:
	m=c^d mod n.  The attacker also knows c and n.  The psuedo code of 
	the attack:             

	Algorithm to compute m=c^d mod n:

	Let m0 = 1.
	Let c0 = x.
	For i=0 upto (bits in d-1):
		If (bit i of d) is 1 then
			Let mi+1 = (mi * ci) mod n.
			Let mi+1 = mi.
		Let di+1 = di^2 mod n.

	This is very new (the public announcement was made on 12/7/95) 
	and intense scrutiny of the attack has not been possible.  However, 
	Ron Rivest had this to say about countering it:

- -------------------------------------------BEGIN INCLUDED TEXT---------------

From: Ron Rivest <rivest>
Newsgroups: sci.crypt
Subject: Re: Announce: Timing cryptanalysis of RSA, DH, DSS
Date: 11 Dec 1995 20:17:01 GMT
Organization: MIT Laboratory for Computer Science

The simplest way to defeat Kocher's timing attack is to ensure that the
cryptographic computations take an amount of time that does not depend on the
data being operated on.  For example, for RSA it suffices to ensure that
a modular multiplication always takes the same amount of time, independent of
the operands.

A second way to defeat Kocher's attack is to use blinding: you "blind" the
data beforehand, perform the cryptographic computation, and then unblind
afterwards.  For RSA, this is quite simple to do.  (The blinding and 
unblinding operations still need to take a fixed amount of time.) This doesn't
give a fixed overall computation time, but the computation time is then a
random variable that is independent of the operands.
- - 
Ronald L. Rivest  617-253-5880  617-253-8682(Fax) [email protected]

- ---------------------------------------------END INCLUDED TEXT---------------

	The blinding Rivest speaks of simply introduces a random value into
	the decryption process.  So, 

		m = c^d mod n


		m = r^-1(cr^e)^d mod n

	r is the random value, and r^-1 is it's inverse.
	PGP is not vulnerable to the timing attack as it uses the CRT to
	speed RSA operations.  Also, since the timing attack requires an
	attacker to observe the cryptographic operations in real time (ie:
	snoop the decryption process from start to finish) and most people
	encrypt and decrypt off-line, it is further made inpractical.

	While the attack is definitly something to be wary of, it is
	theorectical in nature, and has not been done in practice as of

	-- Other RSA attacks --

	There are other attacks against RSA, such as the common modulous
	attack in which several users share n, but have different values
	for e and d.  Sharing a common modulous with several users, can 
	enable an attacker to recover a message without factoring n.  PGP 
	does not share public-key modulous' among users.

	If d is up to one quarter the size of n and e is less than n, d
	can be recovered without factoring.  PGP does not choose small
	values for the decryption exponent.  (If d were too small it might 
	make a brute force sweep of d values feasible which is obviously a 
	bad thing.)

	-- Keysizes --

	It is pointless to make predictions for recommended keysizes.  
	The breakneck speed at which technology is advancing makes it
	difficult and dangerous.  Respected cryptographers will not make 
	predictions past 10 years and I won't embarass myself trying to 
	make any.  For today's secrets, a 1024-bit is probably safe and
	a 2048-bit key definitely is.  I wouldn't trust these numbers 
	past the end of the century.  However, it is worth mentioning that
	RSA would not have lastest this long if it was as fallible as some 
	crackpots with middle initials would like you to believe.

			3 -- [The one-way hash] -- 3

	MD5 is the one-way hash used to hash the passphrase into the IDEA 
	key and to sign documents.  Message Digest 5 was designed by Rivest 
	as a sucessor to MD4 (which was found to be weakened with reduced 
	rounds).  It is slower but more secure.  Like all one-way hash 
	functions, MD5 takes an arbitrary-length input and generates a unique 

	-- Brute Force of MD5 --

	The strength of any one-way hash is defined by how well it can 
	randomize an arbitrary message and produce a unique output.  There
	are two types of brute force attacks against a one-way hash 
	function, pure brute force (my own terminolgy) and the birthday

	-- Pure Brute Force Attack against MD5 --

	The output of MD5 is 128-bits.  In a pure brute force attack, 
	the attacker has access to the hash of message H(m).  She wants
	to find another message m' such that:

			H(m) = H(m').  

	To find such message (assuming it exists) it would take a machine
	that could try 1,000,000,000 messages per second about 1.07E22
	years.  (To find m would require the same amount of time.)

	-- The birthday attack against MD5 --

	Find two messages that hash to the same value is known as a collision 
	and is exploited by the birthday attack.

	The birthday attack is a statistical probability problem.  Given
	n inputs and k possible outputs, (MD5 being the function to take
	n -> k) there are n(n-1)/2 pairs of inputs.  For each pair, there
	is a probability of 1/k of both inputs producing the same output.
	So, if you take k/2 pairs, the probability will be 50% that a
	matching pair will be found.  If n > sqrt(k), there is a good chance
	of finding a collision.  In MD5's case, 2^64 messages need to be
	tryed.  This is not a feasible attack given today's technology.  If 
	you could try 1,000,000 messages per second, it would take 584,942 
	years to find a collision. (A machine that could try 1,000,000,000 
	messages per second would take 585 years, on average.)

	For a successful account of the birthday against crypt(3), see:

	-- Other attacks against MD5 --
	Differential cryptanalysis has proven to be effective against one
	round of MD5, but not against all 4 (differential cryptanalysis
	looks at ciphertext pairs whose plaintexts has specfic differences
	and analyzes these differences as they propagate through the cipher).
	There was successful attack at the compression function itself that
	produces collsions, but this attack has no practical impact the
	security.  If your copy of PGP has had the MD5 code altered to
	cause these collisions, it would fail the message digest 
	verification and you would reject it as altered... Right?

	-- Passphrase Length and Information Theory --
	According to conventional information theory, the English language 
	has about 1.3 bits of entropy (information) per 8-bit character.
	If the pass phrase entered is long enough, the reuslting MD5 hash will
	be statisically random.  For the 128-bit output of MD5, a pass phrase
	of about 98 characters will provide a random key:

		(8/1.3) * (128/8) = (128/1.3) = 98.46 characters

	How many people use a 98 character passphrase for you secret-key
	in PGP?  Below is 98 characters...


	1.3 comes from the fact that an arbitrary readable English sentence
	is usually going to consist of certian letters, (e,r,s, and t are
	statiscally very common) thereby reducing it's entropy.  If any of the 
	26 letters in the Latin alphabet were equally possible and likely 
	(which is seldom the case) the entropy increases.  The so-called 
	absolute rate would, in this case, be:
		log(26) / log(2) = 4.7 bits

	In this case of increased entropy, a password with a truly random 
	sequence of English characters will only need to be:

		(8/4.7) * (128/8) = (128/4.7) = 27.23 characters

	For more info on passphrase length, see the PGP passphrase FAQ: 

			4 -- [The PRNG] -- 4

	PGP employs 2 PRNG's to generate and manipulate (psuedo) random data.
	The ANSI X9.17 generator and a function which measures the entropy
	from the latency in a user's keystrokes.  The random pool (which is
	the randseed.bin file) is used to seed the ANSI X9.17 PRNG (which uses 
	IDEA, not 3DES).  Randseed.bin is initially generated from trueRand 
	which is the keystroke timer.  The X9.17 generator is pre-washed with 
	an MD5 hash of the plaintext and postwashed with some random data 
	which is used to generate the next randseed.bin file.  The process is 
	broken up and discussd below.

	-- ANSI X9.17 (cryptRand) --

	The ANSI X9.17 is the method of key generation PGP uses. It is 
	oficially specified using 3DES, but was easily converted to IDEA. 
	X9.17 requires 24 bytes of random data from randseed.bin.  (PGP
	keeps an extra 384 bytes of state information for other uses...)
	When cryptRand starts, the randseed.bin file is washed (see below)
	and the first 24-bytes are used to initialize X9.17.  It works as 

	E() = an IDEA encryption, with a reusable key used for key generation
	T = timestamp (data from randseed.bin used in place of timestamp)
	V = Initialization Vector, from randseed.bin    
	R = random session key to be generated

	R = E[E(T) XOR V]
	the next V is generated thusly:

	V = E[E(T) XOR R]

	-- Latency Timer (trueRand) --

	The trueRand generator attempts to measure entropy from the latency
	of a user's keystrokes every time the user types on the keyboard.  It
	is used to generate the initial randseed.bin which is in turn used to
	seed to X9.17 generator.
	The quality of the output of trueRand is dependent upon it's input.
	If the input has a low amount of entropy, the output will not be as
	random as possible.  In order to maxmize the entropy, the keypresses
	should be spaced as randomly as possible.

	-- X9.17 Prewash with MD5 --

	In most situations, the attacker does not know the content of the 
	plaintext being encrypted by PGP.  So, in most cases, washing the
	X9.17 generator with an MD5 hash of the plaintext, simply adds to
	security.  This is based on the assumption that this added unknown 
	information will add to the entropy of the generator.
	If, in the event that the attacker has some information about the
	plaintext (perhaps the attacker knows which file was encrypted, and
	wishes to prove this fact) the attacker may be able to execute a
	known-plaintext attack against X9.17.  However, it is not likely
	that, with all the other precautions taken, that this would weaken
	the generator.

	-- Randseed.bin wash --

	The randseed is washed before and after each use.  In PGP's case
	a wash is an IDEA encryption in cipher-feedback mode.  Since IDEA
	is considered secure (see section 1), it should be just as hard to 
	determine the 128-bit IDEA key as it is to glean any information from 
	the wash.  The IDEA key used is the MD5 hash of the plaintext and an 
	initialization vector of zero.  The IDEA session key is then generated
	as is an IV.
	The postwash is considered more secure.  More random bytes are 
	generated to reinitialize randseed.bin.  These are encrypted with the
	same key as the PGP encrypted message.  The reason for this is that if
	the attacker knows the session key, she can decrypt the PGP message 
	directly and would have no need to attack the randseed.bin.  (A note,
	the attacker might be more interested in the state of the 
	randseed.bin, if they were attacking all messages, or the message 
	that the user is expected to send next).

			5 -- [Practical Attacks] -- 5

	Most of the attacks outlined above are either not possible or not
	feasable by the average adversary.  So, what can the average cracker
	do to subvert the otherwise stalwart security of PGP?  As it turns 
	out,  there are several "doable" attacks that can be launched by the 
	typical cracker.  They do not attack the cryptosystem protocols 
	themselves, (which have shown to be secure) but rather system 
	specific implementations of PGP.

	-- Passive Attacks (Snooping) --

	These attacks do not do need to do anything proactive and can easily 
	go undetected.

	-- Keypress Snooping  --

	Still a very effective method of attack, keypress snooping can subvert
	the security of the strongest cryptosystem.  If an attacker can 
	install a keylogger, and capture the passphrase of an unwary target,
	then no cryptanalysis whatsoever is necessary.  The attacker has the
	passphrase to unlock the RSA private key.  The system is completely
	The methods vary from system to system, but I would say DOS-based PGP 
	would be the most vulnerable.  DOS is the easiest OS to subvert, and 
	has the most key-press snooping tools that I am aware of.  All an 
	attacker would have to do would be gain access to the machine for 
	under 5 minutes on two seperate occasions and the attack would be 
	complete.  The first time to install the snooping software, the second 
	time, to remove it, and recover the goods. (If the machine is on a 
	network, this can all be done *remotely* and the ease of the attack 
	increases greatly.)  Even if the target boots clean, not loading any 
	TSR's, a boot sector virus could still do the job, transparently.
	Just recently, the author has discovered a key logging utility for
	Windows, which expands this attack to work under Windows-based PGP
	shells (this logger is available from the infonexus via ftp, BTW).

	Keypress snooping under Unix is a bit more complicated, as root
	access is needed, unless the target is entering her passphrase from
	an X-Windows GUI.  There are numerous key loggers available to 
	passively observe keypresses from an X-Windows session.  Check:

	-- Van Eck Snooping --
	The original invisible threat.  Below is a clip from a posting by
	noted information warfare guru Winn Schwartau describing a Van Eck

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Van Eck Radiation Helps Catch Spies 

"Winn Schwartau" < [email protected] > 
Thu, 24 Feb 94 14:13:19 -0500 

Van Eck in Action

Over the last several years, I have discussed in great detail how the
electromagnetic emissions from personal computers (and electronic gear in
general) can be remotely detected without a hard connection and the
information on the computers reconstructed.  Electromagnetic eavesdropping is
about insidious as you can get: the victim doesn't and can't know that anyone
is 'listening' to his computer.  To the eavesdropper, this provides an ideal
means of surveillance: he can place his eavesdropping equipment a fair
distance away to avoid detection and get a clear representation of what is
being processed on the computer in question.  (Please see previous issues of
Security Insider Report for complete technical descriptions of the

The problem, though, is that too many so called security experts, (some
prominent ones who really should know better) pooh-pooh the whole concept,
maintaining they've never seen it work.  Well, I'm sorry that none of them
came to my demonstrations over the years, but Van Eck radiation IS real and
does work.  In fact, the recent headline grabbing spy case illuminates the

Exploitation of Van Eck radiation appears to be responsible, at least in part,
for the arrest of senior CIA intelligence officer Aldrich Hazen Ames on
charges of being a Soviet/Russian mole.  According to the Affidavit in support
of Arrest Warrant, the FBI used "electronic surveillance of Ames' personal
computer and software within his residence," in their search for evidence
against him.  On October 9, 1993, the FBI "placed an electronic monitor in his
(Ames') computer," suggesting that a Van Eck receiver and transmitter was used
to gather information on a real-time basis.  Obviously, then, this is an ideal
tool for criminal investigation - one that apparently works quite well.  (From
the Affidavit and from David Johnston, "Tailed Cars and Tapped Telephones: How
US Drew Net on Spy Suspects," New York Times, February 24, 1994.)

>From what we can gather at this point, the FBI black-bagged Ames' house and
installed a number of surveillance devices.  We have a high confidence factor
that one of them was a small Van Eck detector which captured either CRT
signals or keyboard strokes or both.  The device would work like this:

A small receiver operating in the 22MHz range (pixel frequency) would detect
the video signals minus the horizontal and vertical sync signals.  Since the
device would be inside the computer itself, the signal strength would be more
than adequate to provide a quality source.  The little device would then
retransmit the collected data in real-time to a remote surveillance vehicle or
site where the video/keyboard data was stored on a video or digital storage

At a forensic laboratory, technicians would recreate the original screens and
data that Mr. Ames entered into his computer.  The technicians would add a
vertical sync signal of about 59.94 Hz, and a horizontal sync signal of about
27KHz.  This would stabilize the roll of the picture. In addition, the
captured data would be subject to "cleansing" - meaning that the spurious
noise in the signal would be stripped using Fast Fourier Transform techniques
in either hardware or software.  It is likely, though, that the FBI's device
contained within it an FFT chip designed by the NSA a couple of years ago to
make the laboratory process even easier.

I spoke to the FBI and US Attorney's Office about the technology used for
this, and none of them would confirm or deny the technology used "on an active

Of course it is possible that the FBI did not place a monitoring device within
the computer itself, but merely focused an external antenna at Mr. Ames'
residence to "listen" to his computer from afar, but this presents additional
complexities for law enforcement.

     1. The farther from the source the detection equipment sits means that
the detected information is "noisier" and requires additional forensic
analysis to derive usable information.

     2. Depending upon the electromagnetic sewage content of the immediate
area around Mr. Ames' neighborhood, the FBI surveillance team would be limited
as to what distances this technique would still be viable.  Distance squared
attenuation holds true.

     3. The closer the surveillance team sits to the target, the more likely
it is that their activities will be discovered.

In either case, the technology is real and was apparently used in this
investigation.  But now, a few questions arise.

     1.  Does a court surveillance order include the right to remotely
eavesdrop upon the unintentional emanations from a suspect's electronic
equipment?  Did the warrants specify this technique or were they shrouded
under a more general surveillance authorization?  Interesting question for the

     2. Is the information garnered in this manner admissible in court?  I
have read papers that claim defending against this method is illegal in the
United States, but I have been unable to substantiate that supposition.

     3. If this case goes to court, it would seem that the investigators would
have to admit HOW they intercepted signals, and a smart lawyer (contradictory
allegory :-) would attempt to pry out the relevant details.  This is important
because the techniques are generally classified within the intelligence
community even though they are well understood and explained in open source
materials.  How will the veil of national security be dropped here?

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the Government had
admitted the use of Van Eck (Tempest Busting etc.)  in public.  If anyone
knows of any others, I would love to know about it.

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	The relevance to PGP is obvious, and the threat is real.  Snooping
	the passphrase from the keyboard, and even whole messages from 
	the screen are viable attacks.  This attack, however exotic it may 
	seem, is not beyond the capability of anyone with some technical 
	know-how and the desire to read PGP encrypted files.  

	-- Memory Space Snooping --

	In a multi-user system such as Unix, the physical memory of the 
	machine can be examined by anyone with the proper privaleges (usally
	root).  In comparsion with factoring a huge composite number, opening
	up the virtual memory of the system (/dev/kmem) and seeking to a
	user's page and directly reading it, is trivial.

	-- Disk Cache Snooping --

	In multitasking environments such as Windows, the OS has a nasty habit
	of paging the contents of memory to disk, usally transparently to the
	user, whenever it feels the need to free up some RAM.  This 
	information can sit, in the clear, in the swapfile for varying lengths
	of time, just waiting for some one to come along and recover it.
	Again, in a networked environment where machine access can be done with 
	relative impunity, this file can be stolen without the owner's consent
	or knowledge.

	-- Packet Sniffing --

	If you use PGP on a host which you access remotely, you can be 
	vulnerable to this attack.  Unless you use some sort of session
	encrypting utility, such as SSH, DESlogin, or some sort of network
	protocol stack encryption (end to end or link by link) you are sending
	your passphrase, and messages across in the clear.  A packet sniffer
	sitting at a intermediate point between your terminal can capture all 
	this information quietly and efficiently.  Packet sniffers are 
	available at the infonexus:

	-- Active Attacks --

	These attacks are more proactive in nature and tend to be a bit more
	difficult to wage.

	-- Trojan Horse --

	The age old trojan horse attack is still a very effective means 
	of compromise.  The concept of a trojan horse should not be foriegn
	to anyone.  An apparently harmless program that in reality is evil
	and does potentially malicious things to your computer.  How does
	this sound...:
	Some 31it3 coder has come up with a k3wl new Windows front-end to
	PGP.  All the newbies run out and ftp a copy.  It works great, with
	a host of buttons and scrollbars, and it even comes with a bunch
	of *.wav files and support for a SB AWE 32 so you can have the
	16-bit CD quality sound of a safe locking when you encrypt your
	files.  It runs in a tiny amount of memory, coded such that nothing
	leaks, it intercepts OS calls that would otherwise have it's contents
	paged to disk and makes sure all the info stays in volatile memory.
	It works great (the first Windows app thar does).  Trouble is, this
	program actually has a few lines of malevolent code that record your
	secret-key passphrase, and if it finds a modem (who doesn't have a
	modem these days?) it 'atm0's the modem and dials up a hard coded 
	number to some compromised computer or modem bank and sends the info
	Possible?  Yes.  Likely?  No.

	-- Reworked Code --

	The code to PGP is publically available.  Therefore it is easy to
	modify.  If someone were to modify the sourcecode to PGP inserting
	a sneaky backdoor and leave it at some distribution point, it could
	be disasterous.  However, it is also very easy to detect.  Simply
	verify the checksums.  Patching the MD5 module to report a false
	checksum is also possible, so verify using a known good copy.
	A more devious attack would be to modify the code, compile it and 
	surreptitouly plant in the target system.  In a networked environment
	this can be done without ever having physical access to the machine.

			6 -- [What if...] -- 6
	...My secret key was comprimsed?
	A PGP secret key is kept conventionally encrypted with IDEA.  Assuming
	your passphrase is secure enough (see section 3) the best method of
	attack will be a brute force key-search.  If an attacker could test 
	1,000,000,000,000 keys per second, it would take 1x10^17 years 
	before odds will be in the attacker's favor...
	...PGP ran outta primes?

	There are an infinite amount of prime numbers.  The approximate 
	density of primes lesser than or equal to n is n/ln(n).  For a 
	1024-bit key, this yields:

		1.8*10^308/ln(1.8*10^308) = 2.5*10^305

	There are about 2.5*10^228 times more prime numbers less than 
	1024-bits than there are atoms in the universe...

	...What if someone made a list of all these prime numbers?

	If you could store 1,000,000 terabytes of information of a device 
	that weighs 1 gram, (and we figure each number fits in a space of 128 
	bytes or less) we would need a device that weighs 3.2*10^289 grams or
	7*10^286 pounds.  This is 1.6*10^256 times more massive than our sun.  
	Nevermind the fact that we don't have enough matter to even concieve 
	of building such a device, and if we could, it would collapse into
	a black-hole...
	...And used them in a brute force search?
	There are 2.5E305(2.5E305-1)/2 possible pairs.  This is 3.12*10^610 
	combinations.  Absurd, isn't it?

	...PGP chose composites instead of primes?
	The likelyhood of the Fermat Tests of passing a composite off as a 
	prime is 1 in 10^52.  If PGP could generate 1,000,000,000,000 primes
	per second, It would take about 1x10^32 years until odds are better 
	than even for that to happen.

			7 -- [Closing Comments] -- 7

	I have presented factual data, statistical data, and projected data.
	Form your own conclusions.  Perhaps the NSA has found a polynomial-time 
	(read: *fast*) factoring algorithm.  But we cannot dismiss an 
	otherwise secure cryptosystem due to paranoia.  Of course, on the 
	same token, we cannot trust cryptosystems on hearsay or assumptions of
	security.  Bottom line is this: in the field of computer security, it 
	pays to be cautious.  But it doens't pay to be un-informed or 
	needlessly paranoid.  Know the facts.

		   -- [Thank You's (in no particular order)] --

	PRZ, Collin Plumb, Paul Kocher, Bruce Schneier, Paul Rubin, Stephen 
	McCluskey, Adam Back, Bill Unruh, Ben Cantrick, Jordy, Galactus,
	the readers of sci.crypt and the* groups...

- -- 
[ [email protected] ] Guild member, Information enthusiast, Hacker, demon
		...this universe is MINE... I am *GOD* here...

Version: 2.6.2