Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Anders Wallgren, Derek Weeks, Jason Bloomberg, SmartBear Blog

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, Agile Computing, SDN Journal

Cloud Security: Article

Time to Ditch Cryptographic Keys?

Will keyless signatures overtake PKI as the wave of the future? Governments, flying drones, and big telecom all say so

What is the most secure way to authenticate electronic data? Until recently, many technical people would have answered ‘cryptographic keys' without blinking. But recent headline events - and a ‘biggie' last year - have raised serious doubts about the ability of cryptographic keys to protect vital government and corporate data.

Here are two examples from February that should make CIOs, CTOs and CSOs tremble in their boardrooms: McAfee revoking keys for signing apps on the Apple store; and stolen keys from Bit9 being used to sign malware.

In the McAfee case, a McAfee administrator revoked (by mistake) the digital key for certifying desktop apps that run on Apple's OS X, thereby creating serious problems for customers who wanted to install or upgrade Mac antivirus products.

The original Arstechnica article (McAfee revoking keys) noted that the administrator intended to revoke his individual user key, but "instead revoked the code-signing keys Apple uses to help keep the Mac ecosystem free of malware."

The bottom line: the mistake left customers with no safe options to install or upgrade their programs. The big takeaway: this episode paints a graphic picture of the challenges of administering the digital certificates at the heart of public key infrastructures (PKI) - certificates used to validate software and websites, and to encrypt email and other forms of Internet communication.

Also in February, a private key that security firm Bit9 uses to certify software was stolen by crooks and used to put a trusted seal of approval on malware that infected a few Bit9 customers.

However, those sorry episodes pale in comparison to a massive security breach last year when hackers used a stolen master private key from RSA to attack Lockheed Martin (RSA/EMC losing its master private key.) Lockheed, a major defense contractor to the U.S. government, makes the F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighter aircraft, the Aegis naval combat system, and the THAAD missile defense.

Sources close to Lockheed said compromised RSA SecurID tokens - USB keychain dongles that generate strings of numbers for cryptography purposes - played a pivotal role in the Lockheed Martin hack.

Hackers apparently entered Lockheed Martin's servers and accessed the company's virtual private network (VPN). The VPN allows employees to connect over virtually any public network to the company's primary servers, using information streams secured by cryptography.

With the RSA tokens hacked, those supposedly secure VPN connections were compromised.

Predictably, Lockheed said it detected the attack almost immediately, repulsed it quickly, and that the risk was minimal. The company also claimed that no customer, program or personal employee data was compromised.

All of the above examples not only undermine the security of using cryptographic keys but leave people wondering whether there is a better way to authenticate.

The better way - Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI) - has been around since 2007, when it was invented by scientists in Estonia. KSI generates digital signatures for electronic data on a massive scale but uses only cryptographic hash functions, meaning there are no keys to be compromised or trusted humans in sight.

Some six years ago, Estonian scientists at Tallinn Technical University posed the question: How can you rely on electronic data if you assume that your entire network has been compromised and nobody - not even the system administrators within your own organization - can be trusted?

KSI, the fruit of those scientists' work, is used by governments and companies around the world. It helps them to authenticate electronic data generated from the Smart Grid, the Connected Car, and networked routers and machines (either virtual or physical) - basically any type of electronic data. In November, China Telecom, the largest fixed line telecommunications service provider in China, became a keyless signature service provider via its Tianyi 3G platform. Most recently Japan Drones, a developer of custom software for miniature Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) announced it was using keyless signatures for its drone security. The U.S. military could use the good PR, given publicity over a white hat hacking scheme done by University of Texas students as reported in June by The Huffington Post, which went as far as to say, "Turns out it's not too difficult to hack a drone."

Chaozong Chen, general manager of Ningbo CA, the Certificate Authority for the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province in China, said, "KSI's unique features such as independency of verification, intrinsic time binding for data, universal accessibility cross platforms and lack of keys allow us to provide functions and values where traditional public key infrastructure (PKI) is limited. The future proof from quantum computing is of course a major benefit."

Here's another example of KSI in action: every payment within the Estonian banking system comes with a keyless signature, ensuring that insiders cannot modify transactions intent on fraud.

In addition, the Estonian government has embarked on a huge project to integrate KSI technology into the rsyslog utility - a project that will enable every system event across all government networks to be authenticated by time, data integrity and server identity. (Note: rsylog is an open source utility used on Unix and Unix-like computers for forwarding log messages in an IP network.)

Further demonstrating Estonia's confidence in KSI, the Estonian Government's Centre of Registers and Information Systems (RIK) recently embraced the technology.

RIK is using keyless signature technology for validating the authenticity of documents that it is digitizing from the archives of the Succession Register and Chamber of Notaries.

Using keyless signature infrastructure, the authenticity of all the records is periodically verified, the re-verification happens automatically, meaning that the information about the integrity of the stored records is always up to date and any breaches create an alert immediately.

As KSI has proven itself for years in various government and commercial entities, the time is ripe to consider it the logical successor to cryptographic keys, which are starting to look outdated and very vulnerable.

"While our PKI based solutions have been widely adopted, we see a growing need to prove data integrity and time on a massive scale, with cases where customer identification registration is unpractical and less important, such as electronic receipts for cash based transactions," said Chaozong Chen. "These are where KSI can help. It is strategically important for us to start integrating KSI with our successful PKI solutions and this will help us maintain our leadership in the field."

More Stories By Herman Mehling

Herman Mehling has been an IT writer and consultant for more than 25 years. He has written thousands of articles for leading trade magazines and websites. His work has appeared in such publications as Computer Reseller News, eWeek, Forbes, Network World and InformationWeek. In the ’80s and ’90s, he worked as a PR executive at many San Francisco Bay Area high-tech agencies, including Niehaus Ryan Haller, which helped to launch Yahoo! and to re-cast the image of Apple as an Internet player. He was a staff editor and reporter at Computer Reseller News for many years.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
With DevOps becoming more well-known and established practice in nearly every industry that delivers software, it is important to continually reassess its efficacy. This week’s top 10 includes a discussion on how the quick uptake of DevOps adoption in the enterprise has posed some serious challenges. Additionally, organizations who have taken the DevOps plunge must find ways to find, hire and keep their DevOps talent in order to keep the machine running smoothly.
Call it DevOps or not, if you are concerned about releasing more code faster and at a higher quality, the resulting software delivery chain and process will look and smell like DevOps. But for existing development teams, no matter what the velocity objective is, getting from here to there is not something that can be done without a plan. Moving your release cadence from months to weeks is not just about learning Agile practices and getting some automation tools. It involves people, tooling and ...
Between the mockups and specs produced by analysts, and resulting applications built by developers, there exists a gulf where projects fail, costs spiral, and applications disappoint. Methodologies like Agile attempt to address this with intensified communication, with partial success but many limitations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Charles Kendrick, CTO & Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, will present a revolutionary model enabled by new technologies. Learn how business and devel...
The notion of customer journeys, of course, are central to the digital marketer’s playbook. Clearly, enterprises should focus their digital efforts on such journeys, as they represent customer interactions over time. But making customer journeys the centerpiece of the enterprise architecture, however, leaves more questions than answers. The challenge arises when EAs consider the context of the customer journey in the overall architecture as well as the architectural elements that make up each...
APIs have taken the world by storm in recent years. The use of APIs has gone beyond just traditional "software" companies, to companies and organizations across industries using APIs to share information and power their applications. For some organizations, APIs are the biggest revenue drivers. For example, Salesforce generates nearly 50% of annual revenue through APIs. In other cases, APIs can increase a business's footprint and initiate collaboration. Netflix, for example, reported over 5 bi...
As the software delivery industry continues to evolve and mature, the challenge of managing the growing list of the tools and processes becomes more daunting every day. Today, Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) platforms are proving most valuable by providing the governance, management and coordination for every stage of development, deployment and release. Recently, I spoke with Madison Moore at SD Times about the changing market and where ALM is headed.
If there is anything we have learned by now, is that every business paves their own unique path for releasing software- every pipeline, implementation and practices are a bit different, and DevOps comes in all shapes and sizes. Software delivery practices are often comprised of set of several complementing (or even competing) methodologies – such as leveraging Agile, DevOps and even a mix of ITIL, to create the combination that’s most suitable for your organization and that maximize your busines...
These days I mostly make my living as a consultant. Consultants in general are probably not the best loved group in the world. It is common to think of consultants wafting-in to your organization, telling you things that you already know and advising you to “change your culture”, whatever that means. Subsequently they depart, no-doubt with a fat fee, and leave you as you were before with the same problems and no progress made.
Struggling to keep up with increasing application demand? Learn how Platform as a Service (PaaS) can streamline application development processes and make resource management easy.
In the rush to compete in the digital age, a successful digital transformation is essential, but many organizations are setting themselves up for failure. There’s a common misconception that the process is just about technology, but it’s not. It’s about your business. It shouldn’t be treated as an isolated IT project; it should be driven by business needs with the committed involvement of a range of stakeholders.
New Relic, Inc. has announced a set of new features across the New Relic Software Analytics Cloud that offer IT operations teams increased visibility, and the ability to diagnose and resolve performance problems quickly. The new features further IT operations teams’ ability to leverage data and analytics, as well as drive collaboration and a common, shared understanding between teams. Software teams are under pressure to resolve performance issues quickly and improve availability, as the comple...
The goal of any tech business worth its salt is to provide the best product or service to its clients in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. This is just as true in the development of software products as it is in other product design services. Microservices, an app architecture style that leans mostly on independent, self-contained programs, are quickly becoming the new norm, so to speak. With this change comes a declining reliance on older SOAs like COBRA, a push toward more s...
Join IBM June 8 at 18th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn how to innovate like a startup and scale for the enterprise. You need to deliver quality applications faster and cheaper, attract and retain customers with an engaging experience across devices, and seamlessly integrate your enterprise systems. And you can't take 12 months to do it.
This is not a small hotel event. It is also not a big vendor party where politicians and entertainers are more important than real content. This is Cloud Expo, the world's longest-running conference and exhibition focused on Cloud Computing and all that it entails. If you want serious presentations and valuable insight about Cloud Computing for three straight days, then register now for Cloud Expo.
The proper isolation of resources is essential for multi-tenant environments. The traditional approach to isolate resources is, however, rather heavyweight. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Igor Drobiazko, co-founder of elastic.io, will draw upon their own experience with operating a Docker container-based infrastructure on a large scale and present a lightweight solution for resource isolation using microservices. He will also discuss the implementation of microservices in data and applicat...
Digital means customer preferences and behavior are driving enterprise technology decisions to be sure, but let’s not forget our employees. After all, when we say customer, we mean customer writ large, including partners, supply chain participants, and yes, those salaried denizens whose daily labor forms the cornerstone of the enterprise. While your customers bask in the warm rays of your digital efforts, are your employees toiling away in the dark recesses of your enterprise, pecking data into...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Stratoscale, the software company developing the next generation data center operating system, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Stratoscale is revolutionizing the data center with a zero-to-cloud-in-minutes solution. With Stratoscale’s hardware-agnostic, Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) solution to store everything, run anything and scale everywhere...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Men & Mice, the leading global provider of DNS, DHCP and IP address management overlay solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The Men & Mice Suite overlay solution is already known for its powerful application in heterogeneous operating environments, enabling enterprises to scale without fuss. Building on a solid range of diverse platform support,...
You deployed your app with the Bluemix PaaS and it's gaining some serious traction, so it's time to make some tweaks. Did you design your application in a way that it can scale in the cloud? Were you even thinking about the cloud when you built the app? If not, chances are your app is going to break. Check out this webcast to learn various techniques for designing applications that will scale successfully in Bluemix, for the confidence you need to take your apps to the next level and beyond.