Welcome!

SOA & WOA Authors: Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Victoria Livschitz, Larry Dragich

Related Topics: Security, Java, SOA & WOA, Virtualization, Web 2.0, SDN Journal

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.