Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

Critical vulnerabilities in PGP/GPG and S/MIME email encryption, warn researchers

Daniel Sambraus—EyeEm  Getty Images Daniel Sambraus—EyeEm Getty Images
Sandra Phillips | 14 May, 2018, 18:13

On Tuesday, a team of researchers are planning to release details of a critical vulnerability which they claim could have serious consequences for internet users who use PGP/GPG to encrypt and decrypt their sensitive email communications.

He said the vulnerabilities "might reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails, including encrypted emails sent in the past" and that there are no current fixes available.

The security flaws that have been discovered could potentially leak the contents of the encrypted messages you send and receive via email when signed with PGP or S/MIME encryption methods.

An EFF advisory says "these vulnerabilities pose an immediate risk to those using these tools for email communication, including the potential exposure of the contents of past messages".

Users should immediately disable or remove any tools that automatically decrypt PGP-encrypted emails until the flaws are understood and fixed, EFF said.

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S/MIME - which is primarily used by corporations to protect the security of their emails - was described as irreparably broken.

The two attacks, details of which were published on Monday in a research paper, affect PGP, the most popular technology for sending encrypted emails. Long term, comprehensively patching this particular vulnerability will require an update to the underlying email encryption standards.

It's believed that the vulnerabilities exist in the email clients themselves, rather than the PGP encryption protocol. Because a full block of plaintext-the researchers cite S/MIME emails starting with "Content-type: multipart/signed" as one-is known to the attacker, this allows the attacker to "repeatedly [append] CBC gadgets to inject an image tag into the encrypted plaintext".

But it said that, correctly used and configured, both forms of encryption remained secure.

PGP, for example, works using an algorithm to generate a "hash", or mathematical summary, of a user's name and other information. To prevent a breach, the BSI said that users needed to secure access to their mailboxes and prevent their email clients from loading HTML code from external websites.

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