[removing Cc: tahoe-dev as this subthread is not about Tahoe-LAFS. Of course, the subscribers to tahoe-dev would probably be interested in this subthread, but that just goes to show that they ought to subscribe to cryptogra...@metzdowd.com.]

On Monday,2009-08-10, at 11:56 , Jason Resch wrote:

I don't think there is any basis to the claims that Cleversafe makes that their erasure-coding ("Information Dispersal")-based system is fundamentally safer, e.g. these claims from [3]: "a malicious party cannot recreate data from a slice, or two, or three, no matter what the advances in processing power." ... "Maybe encryption alone is 'good enough' in some cases now - but Dispersal is 'good always' and represents the future."

It is fundamentally safer in that even if the transformation key were brute forced, the attacker only gains data from the slice, which in general will have 1/threshold the data.

Okay, so the Cleversafe method of erasure-coding ciphertext and storing the slices on different servers is "safer" in exactly the same way that encrypting and then giving an attacker only a part of the ciphertext is safer. That is: having less ciphertext might hinder cryptanalysis a little, and also even if the attacker totally wins and is able to decrypt the ciphertext, at least he'll only get part of the plaintext that way. On the other hand I might consider it scant comfort if I were told that "the good news is that the attacker was able to read only the first 1/3 of each of your files". :-)

But the Cleversafe method of appending the masked key to the last slice makes it less safe, because having the masked key might help a cryptanalyst quite a lot.

In any case, the claims that are made on the Cleversafe web site are wrong and misleading: "a malicious party cannot recreate data from a slice, or two, or three, no matter what the advances in processing power" [1]. It is easy for customers to believe this claim, because an honest party who is following the normal protocol is limited in this way and because information-theoretically-secure secret-sharing schemes have this property. I kind of suspect that the Cleversafe folks got confused at some point by the similarities between their AONT+erasure-coding scheme and a secret-sharing scheme.

In any case, the statement quoted above is not true, and not only that isolated statement, but also the entire thrust of the "encryption isn't safe but Cleversafe's algorithm is safer" argument [2]. Just to pick out another of the numerous examples of misleading and unjustified claims along these lines, here is another: "Given that the level of security provided by the AONT can be set arbitrarily high (there is no limit to the length of key it uses for the transformation), information theoretic security is not necessary as one can simply use a key so long that it could not be cracked before the stars burn out." [3].

On the other hand Cleversafe's arguments about key management being hard and about there being a trade-off between confidentiality and availability are spot on: [3]. Although I don't think that their strategy for addressing the key management issues is the best strategy, at least their description of the problem are correct. Also, if you ignore the ill-justified claims about security on that page, their explanation of the benefits of their approach is correct. (Sorry if this comes off as smug -- I'm trying to be fair.)

(I'm not even going to address their third point [4] -- at least not until we take this conversation to the law mailing list! :-))

Okay, I think I've made my opinion about these issues fairly clear now, so I'll try to refrain from following-up to this subthread -- the "strong claims about encryption safety" subthread -- unless there are some interesting new technical details that I haven't thought of. By the way, when googling in the attempt to learn more information about the Cleversafe algorithm, I happened to see that Cleversafe is mentioned in this paper by Bellare and Rogaway: "Robust Computational Secrete Sharing and a Unified Account of Classical Secret-Sharing Goals" [5]. I haven't read that paper yet, but given the authors I would assume it is an excellent starting point for a modern study of the cryptographic issues. :-)

I still do intend to follow-up on the subthread which I call "So how do *you* do key management, then?", which I consider to be the most important issue for practical security of systems like these.


Zooko, writing e-mail on his lunch break

[1] http://dev.cleversafe.org/weblog/?p=63
[2] http://dev.cleversafe.org/weblog/?p=95
[3] http://dev.cleversafe.org/weblog/?p=111
[4] http://dev.cleversafe.org/weblog/?p=178
[5] http://www.cs.ucdavis.edu/~rogaway/papers/rcss.html

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