Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Pat Romanski, Destiny Bertucci, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Amitabh Sinha

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.


@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Synametrics Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Synametrics Technologies is a privately held company based in Plainsboro, New Jersey that has been providing solutions for the developer community since 1997. Based on the success of its initial product offerings such as WinSQL, Xeams, SynaMan and Syncrify, Synametrics continues to create and hone inn...
As many know, the first generation of Cloud Management Platform (CMP) solutions were designed for managing virtual infrastructure (IaaS) and traditional applications. But that's no longer enough to satisfy evolving and complex business requirements. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Scott Davis, Embotics CTO, explored how next-generation CMPs ensure organizations can manage cloud-native and microservice-based application architectures, while also facilitating agile DevOps methodology. He expla...
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Jack Norris, Senior Vice President, Data and Applications at MapR Technologies, reviewed best practices to ...
DevOps promotes continuous improvement through a culture of collaboration. But in real terms, how do you: Integrate activities across diverse teams and services? Make objective decisions with system-wide visibility? Use feedback loops to enable learning and improvement? With technology insights and real-world examples, in his general session at @DevOpsSummit, at 21st Cloud Expo, Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, explored how leading organizations use data-driven DevOps to close th...
Continuous Delivery makes it possible to exploit findings of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to increase the productivity and happiness of our teams. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Daniel Jones, CTO of EngineerBetter, will answer: How can we improve willpower and decrease technical debt? Is the present bias real? How can we turn it to our advantage? Can you increase a team’s effective IQ? How do DevOps & Product Teams increase empathy, and what impact does empath...
Most technology leaders, contemporary and from the hardware era, are reshaping their businesses to do software. They hope to capture value from emerging technologies such as IoT, SDN, and AI. Ultimately, irrespective of the vertical, it is about deriving value from independent software applications participating in an ecosystem as one comprehensive solution. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kausik Sridhar, founder and CTO of Pulzze Systems, discussed how given the magnitude of today's application ...
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
You know you need the cloud, but you're hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You're looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you're concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies. What do you do?
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
Sanjeev Sharma Joins June 5-7, 2018 @DevOpsSummit at @Cloud Expo New York Faculty. Sanjeev Sharma is an internationally known DevOps and Cloud Transformation thought leader, technology executive, and author. Sanjeev's industry experience includes tenures as CTO, Technical Sales leader, and Cloud Architect leader. As an IBM Distinguished Engineer, Sanjeev is recognized at the highest levels of IBM's core of technical leaders.
In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Dumas, Calligo’s Vice President and G.M. of US operations, discussed the new Global Data Protection Regulation and how Calligo can help business stay compliant in digitally globalized world. Greg Dumas is Calligo's Vice President and G.M. of US operations. Calligo is an established service provider that provides an innovative platform for trusted cloud solutions. Calligo’s customers are typically most concerned about GDPR compliance, application p...
Mobile device usage has increased exponentially during the past several years, as consumers rely on handhelds for everything from news and weather to banking and purchases. What can we expect in the next few years? The way in which we interact with our devices will fundamentally change, as businesses leverage Artificial Intelligence. We already see this taking shape as businesses leverage AI for cost savings and customer responsiveness. This trend will continue, as AI is used for more sophistica...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
The past few years have brought a sea change in the way applications are architected, developed, and consumed—increasing both the complexity of testing and the business impact of software failures. How can software testing professionals keep pace with modern application delivery, given the trends that impact both architectures (cloud, microservices, and APIs) and processes (DevOps, agile, and continuous delivery)? This is where continuous testing comes in. D
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
"WineSOFT is a software company making proxy server software, which is widely used in the telecommunication industry or the content delivery networks or e-commerce," explained Jonathan Ahn, COO of WineSOFT, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.