1997-08-06 - Re: Eternity Uncensorable?

Header Data

From: Adam Back <aba@dcs.ex.ac.uk>
To: mark@unicorn.com
Message Hash: f1258cb374196e99c59155d97749f08382879246e2b1bc5242ec78668a97fcb6
Message ID: <199708061308.OAA02171@server.test.net>
Reply To: <Pine.LNX.3.91.970806120354.15807A-100000@cowboy.dev.madge.com>
UTC Datetime: 1997-08-06 13:50:17 UTC
Raw Date: Wed, 6 Aug 1997 21:50:17 +0800

Raw message

From: Adam Back <aba@dcs.ex.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 6 Aug 1997 21:50:17 +0800
To: mark@unicorn.com
Subject: Re: Eternity Uncensorable?
In-Reply-To: <Pine.LNX.3.91.970806120354.15807A-100000@cowboy.dev.madge.com>
Message-ID: <199708061308.OAA02171@server.test.net>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

These comments are useful, as eternity needs some documentation, and
I'm supposed to be writing an article for Phrack on this for deadline
of this sunday, and arguing with people is a good way to get
motivation to write explanations etc.  This dual purpose is why this
is a longish post.

Mark Grant <mark@unicorn.com> writes:
> Seems to me there's a fundamental flaw with the current Eternity
> server; as I understand it the messages are identified by a subject
> which is the SHA of their URL, 


> so all that a government need do to censor a particular site is to
> scan for those messages and issue cancels. Sure, your site and those
> upstream may not accept such messages, but potentially they can
> still wipe out a large fraction of the system or at least force
> users to change their eternity URLs on a regular basis.

Two comments on this:

- I understand cancels are ignored a lot of places, due to problems with
  censorous people, and pranksters issuing tons of forged cancels.
  These censorous people are actually doing us a big favour because it
  is their actions which has led to the widespread policy of ignoring

  However this is going on other peoples information.  I don't have
  any figures for how widespread the practice of configuring news to
  ignore cancels is.  

  Perhaps we could do a little experiment here, you (or someone who
  has the tools/knowhow handy try cancelling the dozen or so eternity
  articles in alt.anonymous.messages, and we'll have a little survey
  amongst list readers as to how well the cancels work.

- Comment #2.  The eternity servers have caches.  They cache
  documents. (This is configurable).  There is currently no cache
  replacement policy because I haven't got around to it yet.  So
  currently once viewed the docs stay there forever.  (When I do get
  around to cache a replacement policy it will be either least
  accessed, and/or lowest ecash payment).

I'm however not so keen to promote the idea that actually the docs you
are looking at are coming off the servers cache because it's nicer to
leave them presuming it was just read off the NNTP server right then
(which it can be at the moment).
It's a two stage process at the moment:

   - server reads news at some chosen internval and creates database
     of article number, subject field, and message-id field for
     subject fields which look like eternity documents.

   - some user comes along and types a URL which matches the chosen
     hash.  Server fetches document from NNTP or local news spool
     using the article number as looked up in the database.  Depending
     on the eternity.conf setting for cacheing (on/off/encrypted) and
     the document setting (on/off/encrypted) the document will be
     either not cached, cached in clear, or cached in encrypted form
     (with sha1( 1<url> ) where <url> is the url of the document).

I could change it to a single stage process so that eternity documents
are immediately cached.  This is something easy to change, which could
be done if people got trigger happy with cancels and it was affecting
things.  Then you would be left with cancel wars :-) The eternity
server would grab the article at first opportunity though.

Later versions of the software will have to exchange documents
somehow, so then as long as one server saw the document before someone
cancelled it you'd be ok.

Clearly you could have an email submission channel where you just
email the article to a server, but that gets away from the idea of
pointing the finger at USENET.  (Cacheing is somewhat protected in
legislation even, because it's just a USENET document, and all you're
doing is cacheing it according to some cache replacement policy).

Some more technical explanations of what's going on encryption wise,
is that articles in the news spool have an outer encryption layer
which encrypts in one of these two ways:

   1) with pgp -c and password "eternity"

   2) with pgp -c and password of sha1( "1<url>" ) 
      where url is the document url

Inside this encryption layer is the document options (document url,
per document cacheing policy, and a marker of whether the document is
exdirectory or not (exdirectory docs not listed on document list).
Plus an optional pgp key, and the ascii armored, optionally signed

There is an optional inner layer of encryption, the ascii armored
signed document can optionally be encrypted:

   3) using a user selected passphrase

Option 1) provides little more protection than rot-13.  But should be
of some use in that it prevents the less clued from reading the
documents out of USENET directly.

Option 2) means that you need to know the URL before you can access
the document.  Without the URL, you're hosed.

Perhaps the URL is easy to guess, perhaps it's not:


Option 3) means that you need the passphrase to read the document in
addition to the URL.  This has similar effect to having a garbled URL,
choose a hard to guess passphrase.

You can turn on SSL at the eternity server, but that means you're
still trusting the operator, and root on the system.

To do it properly, you'll need a local eternity server if you want to
good security of encrypted documents.  Easy enough to run a local
eternity server if you're using linux on a ppp or permanently
connected machine.  My development machine is a ppp connected linux

However I'm not sure having passphrases is that good of an idea,
because it'll be furtively passed around amongst the community of the
person who submitted the documents, but that can always leak out.

And people using non-local eternity servers will be revealing the
shared passphrase to the server admin, (and to the snooping world, if
the server isn't running with SSL turned on).

> It also doesn't provide true security, since when someone sets up an 
> illegal site the gubment can find the messages on Usenet, decrypt them, 
> and then threaten the remailer operator who posted them.

Turn of logs, and introduce forward secrecy into mixmaster.  Easy to
do.  Why don't we have it yet?  (Ulf?  Lance?)

Then you have as true security as you can get from a digital mix with
the parameters mixmaster has.

Don't do too many regular updates of your eternty web pages for very
high risk situations.  Engineered network outages could show you up
quickly even if you were using a DC-net covering 1 million users.

> I understand that this is just an alpha release, but I don't see any
> obvious way to fix these problems with a Usenet-based system. 

Does the above answer your concerns about security?

Medium term software development-wise the eternity servers are going
to have to exchange documents between themselves.  At that point
USENET will be functioning mostly as hard to tamper with distribution
channel.  The rest will be a distributed USENET caching system, with
cache policy determined by popularity of document (hit count), and by
ecash payment.

Longer term perhaps some of Ross Anderson's more advanced ideas can be
added, as discussed by Ryan Lackey in the thread entitled "distributed
data store, a la eternity".

Have *you* exported RSA today? --> http://www.dcs.ex.ac.uk/~aba/rsa/

print pack"C*",split/\D+/,`echo "16iII*o\U@{$/=$z;[(pop,pop,unpack"H*",<>