1994-12-02 - Re: public accounts / PGP / passphrases

Header Data

From: Derek Atkins <warlord@MIT.EDU>
To: lmccarth@ducie.cs.umass.edu
Message Hash: 82b9f6e2a7b7cd36096dff9b95b6c1f082fdf2dbdfdc0f4d8bb3f4fc40104d76
Message ID: <9412020242.AA10706@toxicwaste.media.mit.edu>
Reply To: <199412020218.VAA06287@bb.hks.net>
UTC Datetime: 1994-12-02 02:43:09 UTC
Raw Date: Thu, 1 Dec 94 18:43:09 PST

Raw message

From: Derek Atkins <warlord@MIT.EDU>
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 94 18:43:09 PST
To: lmccarth@ducie.cs.umass.edu
Subject: Re: public accounts / PGP / passphrases
In-Reply-To: <199412020218.VAA06287@bb.hks.net>
Message-ID: <9412020242.AA10706@toxicwaste.media.mit.edu>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain


To: lmccarth@ducie.cs.umass.edu
cc: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Re: public accounts / PGP / passphrases 

> Could someone please elaborate on the foolishness of using PGP with a 
> passphrase on a public machine (as I do) ?  Am I wrong in thinking that my
> secret key is useless to an intruder until she guesses my passphrase ?  I
> have no net access except via an account on a public machine, so I'm not
> about to start storing my secret key elsewhere, but I'll change my passphrase
> to <null> if it's irrelevant anyway.  I just reviewed the PGP docs a bit and
> Phil says "Nobody can use your secret key file without this pass phrase.",
> which seems to contradict what many people on the list have said.

For someone to use your secret key, they need two things:
	1) Access to your secring.pgp file, and
	2) Your passphrase

On a public system, 1) is easy (relatively speaking).  2) is more
difficult, but someone could theoretically listen in to the line
anywhere between your keyboard and the CPU.  What do you know about
what's going on on the other end of the phone line?

My rule of thumb (for me) is to only use PGP when I have direct
control over everything between the keyboard on which I am typing, and
the CPU on which PGP is running. 

This doesn't mean that you _can't_ run PGP on a public machine.  It
also doesn't mean that you _shouldn't_, either.  It is a matter of
security -- how secure do you want your key to be.  If you really
don't mind it being insecure, you might as well generate a 384-bit key
(which has been proven by RSA-129 to be insecure to an amateur attack).

What do you use to contact your public machine?  Do you dial in from
home?  What kind of machine do you have at home?  You might consider
running PGP at home if that is at all possible.

It would be nice to integrate PGP into terminal emulators, too, like
kermit or seyon or red ryder or whatever, so that you could easily use
PGP locally to sign/encrypt things on the remote end.  Wishful
thinking, I guess...

Does this help?

- -derek

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