Monthly Archives: September 2008

Root of Trust ?

I’ve given some talks this year about the Internet’s insecure infrastructure — stressing that fundamental protocols such as BGP and DNS cannot really be trusted at the moment. Although they work just fine most of the time, they are susceptible to attacks which can mean, for example, that you visit the wrong website, or your email is intercepted.

Steps are now being taken, rather faster since Dan Kaminsky came up with a really effective DNS poisoning attack, to secure DNS by using DNSSEC.

The basic idea of DNSSEC is that when you get an answer from the DNS it will be signed by someone you trust. At some point the “trust anchor” for the system will be “.” the DNS root, but for the moment there’s just a handful of “trust anchors” one level down from that. One such anchor is the “.se” country code domain for Sweden. Additionally, Brazil (.br), Puerto Rico (.pr), and Bulgaria (.bg) have signed their zones, but that’s about it for today.

So, wishing to get some experience with the brave new world of DNSSEC, I decided that Sweden was the “in” place to be, and to purchase “” and roll out my first DNSSEC signed domain.

The purchase wasn’t as easy as it might have been — when you buy a domain, Sweden insists that people provide their identity numbers (albeit they have absolutely no way of checking if you’re telling the truth) — or if a company they want a VAT or registration number (which are checkable, albeit I suspect they didn’t bother). I also found that they don’t like spaces in the VAT number — which held things up for a while!

However, eventually they sent me a PGP signed email to tell me I was now the proud owner of “”. Unfortunately, this email wasn’t in RFC3156 PGP/MIME format (or any other format that my usually pretty capable email client understood).

The email was signed with key 0xF440EE9B which was reassuring because the .se registry gives the fingerprint for this key on their website here. Rather less reassuringly footnote (*) next to the fingerprint says “.SE signature for outgoing e-mail. (**) June 1 through August 31.” (the (**) is for a second level of footnote, which is absent — and of course it is now September).

They also enable you to fetch the key through a link on this page to their “PGP nyckel-ID” at

Unfortunately, fetching the key shows that the signature on the email is invalid. [Update 1 Oct: I’ve finally now managed to validate it, see comment.]

Since the email seems to have originated in the Windows world, but was signed on a Linux box (giving it a mixture of 0D 0A and 0A line endings), then pushed through a three year old copy of MIME-tools I suppose the failure isn’t too surprising. But strictly the invalid signature means that I shouldn’t trust the email’s contents at all — because the contents have definitely been tampered with since the signature was applied.

Since the point of the email was to get me to login for the first time to the registry website and set my password to control the domain, this is a little unfortunate.

Even if the signature had been correct, then should I trust the PGP key?

Well it is pointed to from the registry website which is a Good Thing. However, they do themselves no favours by referencing a version on the public key servers. I checked who had signed the key (which is an alternative way of trusting its provenance — since the email had arrived to a non-DNSSEC secured domain). Turned out there was no-one I knew, and of 4 individual signatures, 2 were from expired keys. The other signature was the IIS root key — which sounds promising. That has 8 signatures, once again not people I know — but only 1 from a non-expired key, so perhaps I can get to know some of the other 7?

Of course, anyone can sign a key on a public key server, so perhaps it makes sense for .se to suggest that people fetch a key with as many signatures as possible — there’s more chance of it being signed by someone they know. Anyway, I have now added my own signature, using an email address at my nice shiny new domain. However, it is possible that I may not have increased the level of trust 🙁

Anti-theft Protocols

At last Friday’s Security Group meeting, we talked about security protocols that are intended to deter or reduce the consquences of theft, and how they go wrong.

Examples include:

  • GSM mobile phones have an identifier for the phone (separate from the identifier for the user) that can be blacklisted when the phone is stolen.
  • Some car radios will stop working when the battery is disconnected, and only start working again when a numeric code is entered. This is intended to deter theft of the radio.
  • In Windows Vista, Bitlocker can be used to encrypt files. One of the intended applications for this is that if someone steals your laptop, it will be difficult for them to gain access to your encrypted files.

Ross told a story of what happened when he needed to disconnect the battery on his car: the radio stopped working, and the code he had been given to reactivate it didn’t work – it was the wrong code.
Ross argues that these reactivation codes are unecessary, because other measures taken by the car manufacturers – such as making radios non-standard sizes, and hence not refittable in other car models – have made them redundant.

I described how the motherboard on a laptop had needed to be replaced recently. The motherboard contains the TPM chip, which contains the encryption keys needed to decrypt files protected with Bitlocker. If you replace the motherboard, the files on your hard disk will become unreadable, even if the disk is physically OK. Domain-joined Vista machines can be configured so that a sysadmin somewhere within your organization is able to recover the keys when this happens.

Both of these situations suffer from classic usability problems: the recovery procedures are invoked rarely (so users may not know what they’re supposed to do), and, if your system is configured incorrectly, you only find out when it is too late: you key in the code to your radio and it remains a doorstop; the admin you hoped was escrowing your keys turns out not to have the private key corresponding to the public key you were encrypting under (or, more subtly: the person with the authority to ask for your laptop’s key to be recovered is not you, because the appropriate admin has the wrong name for the laptop’s owner in their database).

I also described what happens when an XBox 360 is stolen. When you buy XBox downloadable content, you buy two licenses: one that’s valid on any XBox, as long as you’re logged in to XBox live; and one that’s valid on just your XBox, regardless of who’s logged in. If a burglar steals your Xbox, and you buy a new one, you need to get another license of the second type (for all the other people in your household who make use of it). The software makes this awkward, because it knows that you already have a license of the first type, and assumes that you couldn’t possibly want to buy it again. The work-around is to get a new email address, a new Microsoft Live Account, and a new Gamer Tag, and use these to repurchase the license. You can’t just change the gamertag, because XBox live doesn’t let the same Microsoft Live account have two gamertags. And yes, I know, your buddies in the MMORPG you were playing know you by your gamertag, so you don’t want to change it.