Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Merry Christmas to all Bankers

The bankers’ trade association has written to Cambridge University asking for the MPhil thesis of one of our research students, Omar Choudary, to be taken offline. They complain it contains too much detail of our No-PIN attack on Chip-and-PIN and thus “breaches the boundary of responsible disclosure”; they also complain about Omar’s post on the subject to this blog.

Needless to say, we’re not very impressed by this, and I made this clear in my response to the bankers. (I am embarrassed to see I accidentally left Mike Bond off the list of authors of the No-PIN vulnerability. Sorry, Mike!) There is one piece of Christmas cheer, though: the No-PIN attack no longer works against Barclays’ cards at a Barclays merchant. So at least they’ve started to fix the bug – even if it’s taken them a year. We’ll check and report on other banks later.

The bankers also fret that “future research, which may potentially be more damaging, may also be published in this level of detail”. Indeed. Omar is one of my coauthors on a new Chip-and-PIN paper that’s been accepted for Financial Cryptography 2011. So here is our Christmas present to the bankers: it means you all have to come to this conference to hear what we have to say!

Financial Cryptography and Data Security 2011 — Call for Participation

Financial Cryptography and Data Security (FC 2011)
Bay Gardens Beach Resort, St. Lucia
February 28 — March 4, 2011

Financial Cryptography and Data Security is a major international forum for research, advanced development, education, exploration, and debate regarding information assurance, with a specific focus on commercial contexts. The conference covers all aspects of securing transactions and systems.

NB: Discounted hotel rate is available only until December 30, 2010

Topics include:

Anonymity and Privacy, Auctions and Audits, Authentication and Identification, Backup Authentication, Biometrics, Certification and Authorization, Cloud Computing Security, Commercial Cryptographic Applications, Transactions and Contracts, Data Outsourcing Security, Digital Cash and Payment Systems, Digital Incentive and Loyalty Systems, Digital Rights Management, Fraud Detection, Game Theoretic Approaches to Security, Identity Theft, Spam, Phishing and Social Engineering, Infrastructure Design, Legal and Regulatory Issues, Management and Operations, Microfinance and Micropayments, Mobile Internet Device Security, Monitoring, Reputation Systems, RFID-Based and Contactless Payment Systems, Risk Assessment and Management, Secure Banking and Financial Web Services, Securing Emerging Computational Paradigms, Security and Risk Perceptions and Judgments, Security Economics, Smartcards, Secure Tokens and Hardware, Trust Management, Underground-Market Economics, Usability, Virtual Economies, Voting Systems

Important Dates

Hotel room reduced rate cut-off: December 30, 2010
Reduced registration rate cut-off: January 21, 2011

Please send any questions to

Continue reading Financial Cryptography and Data Security 2011 — Call for Participation

The Gawker hack: how a million passwords were lost

Almost a year to the date after the landmark¬†RockYou password hack, we have seen another large password breach, this time of Gawker Media. While an order of magnitude smaller, it’s still probably the second largest public compromise of a website’s password file, and in many ways it’s a more interesting case than RockYou. The story quickly made it to the mainstream press, but the reported details are vague and often wrong. I’ve obtained a copy of the data (which remains generally available, though Gawker is attempting to block listing of the torrent files) so I’ll try to clarify the details of the leak and Gawker’s password implementation (gleaned mostly from the readme file provided with the leaked data and from reverse engineering MySQL dumps). I’ll discuss the actual password dataset in a future post. Continue reading The Gawker hack: how a million passwords were lost

Wikileaks, security research and policy

A number of media organisations have been asking us about Wikileaks. Fifteen years ago we kicked off the study of censorship resistant systems, which inspired the peer-to-peer movement; we help maintain Tor, which provides the anonymous communications infrastructure for Wikileaks; and we’ve a longstanding interest in information policy.

I have written before about governments’ love of building large databases of sensitive data to which hundreds of thousands of people need access to do their jobs – such as the NHS spine, which will give over 800,000 people access to our health records. The media are now making the link. Whether sensitive data are about health or about diplomacy, the only way forward is compartmentation. Medical records should be kept in the surgery or hospital where the care is given; and while an intelligence analyst dealing with Iraq might have access to cables on Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, he should have no routine access to stuff on Korea or Brazil.

So much for the security engineering; now to policy. No-one questions the US government’s right to try one of its soldiers for leaking the cables, or the right of the press to publish them now that they’re leaked. But why is Wikileaks treated as the leaker, rather than as a publisher?

This leads me to two related questions. First, does a next-generation censorship-resistant system need a more resilient technical platform, or more respectable institutions? And second, if technological change causes respectable old-media organisations such as the Guardian and the New York Times to go bust and be replaced by blogs, what happens to freedom of the press, and indeed to freedom of speech?