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Ciphire, A Transparent, Easy PGP Alternative 345

mixter writes "Hi. I'd like to point your attention to Ciphire, a fully free and soon-to-be-audited-OpenSource 'Global PKI' project I've been working on for the last three years. As the first three or four thousand geeks started using Ciphire and seem happy, with some tech articles written, I guess the /. community might find this interesting, too. Ciphire hopes to have solved the problems that prevented PGP from a broader deployment, with even higher security standards - as already confirmed by crypto experts Housley & Ferguson. More useful information, e.g. in Wired or in the Nerd^H^H^H^Hexperts FAQ."
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Ciphire, A Transparent, Easy PGP Alternative

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  • GPG? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:43AM (#11447803)
    What's wrong with the GNU Privacy Guard?
  • yeah right... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lordkuri ( 514498 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:45AM (#11447812)
    Ciphire hopes to have solved the problems that prevented PGP from a broader deployment

    so how exactly are you getting it installed and turned on by default in Outlook and Outlook Express?

    tell me I'm wrong if you want, but that's the only way you'll get Jane and Joe 6pack to use it.
  • by Prophetic_Truth ( 822032 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:45AM (#11447814)
    I mean I know folks here on /. will find this cool and may acutally use it for mail. But, when a portion of net users have a hard time remembering thier email username and password, will this really take off? I mean PGP took off to a certain extent, but if you mention it to the average net user they look puzzled.
  • by FyRE666 ( 263011 ) * on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:48AM (#11447829) Homepage
    The main problem this project will encounter will be gaining momentum. PGP already has a huge userbase and infrastructure. It's not that difficult to use for anyone technically minded, and you can already buy "idiot proof" versions to plug into Outlook (I believe). For anyone using Thunderbird, the enigmail plugin offers PGP for free, which works great.

    Maybe I'm missing something?
  • Useless... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gst ( 76126 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:49AM (#11447836) Homepage
    And what are the advantages? We already have the OpenPGP standard which is implemented by GnuPG and PGP. People who prefer free software are able to use GnuPG which is licensed under the GPL. If someone prefers commercial software he can use PGP - it even comes with a nice GUI if you use it on Windows. So let's look at your product: Non-free, No-source code, not standards complient, binaries only available for a limit number of platforms. So - in your posting you say "OpenSource" - on the webpage you write that you may publish the source in the future, but that it will only be free for non-commercial users. This is NOT OpenSource - see for the definition what OpenSource means. Anyway, are there ANY advantages why I should even bother do download your product? Ah - don't mind - I just noticed that there aren't any LinuxPPC binaries, so I can't use it.
  • not really excited (Score:4, Insightful)

    by l3v1 ( 787564 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:52AM (#11447851)
    I mean, get lost, telling us this is better than GPG won't make us run and start use this stuff. Easier to use for joesixpacks ? You mean taking GPG-key-control out of their hands and doing it in the background with some mail application ? No thanks. I know GPG, I trust GPG, I use it with many OSes and with many different applications, very easily, for both signing and encrypting. As many thousand of other people do. So you'd better think some really better arguments there, than in those linked articles.

  • I agree, but I wish enigmail would be included in thunderbird by default. The thunderbird/firefox philosophy is to include only the essentials, right? Anything else should be a plugin/extension. Well, for email, I would think that pgp is an essential, and they need to consider it such.
  • by Equinox11 ( 712426 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:59AM (#11447889)
    I think this product would of been great if they would of made it OpenPGP compliant, and have a method of signing your keys for a particular email address(verify email address, send a web link, click on link and you're done) If they would of implemented all the automatic sender email matching, automatic decryption, automatic signing, etc. with the current(OpenPGP) standards it would be great.. You would already have a compatible userbase & everything. But as of now I have to support two standards S/MIME and OpenPGP when communicating with people.. Why would I want to recommend to a less technical friend a 3rd one? I'll just set them up with Thunderbird/Mozilla and Enigmail( If you havent looked at enigmail check it out.. I'm very impressed with it, and it works fine under windos too.
  • Re:Useless... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TedCheshireAcad ( 311748 ) <> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:59AM (#11447890) Homepage
    PGP is a known secure cryptosystem. Fact of the matter, there is no need for new cryptosystems. We already have PGP, RSA, and Rijndael. All are known secure to the limits of computability. What work really needs to be done is protocol analysis.
  • by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:01PM (#11447903) Homepage
    First off, encryption is done in two layers. With a 2048bit RSA and ElGamal key [both of which can be solved with GNFS ... in a shitload of time]. They
    encrypt the data with AES in CBC-HMAC mode (??? HMAC is not an encryption algo) then Twofish in CCM mode. ... WTF???

    First off, you MAC the ciphertext since it's gonna be exposed anyways. Second... CCM mode? WTF? CTR mode is simpler.

    It's like they went out of their way to overly complicate the process.

  • Re:Useless... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gst ( 76126 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:02PM (#11447907) Homepage
    RFC 2440 and RFC 3156 looks pretty much like an IETF standard to me. See html for further information.

    As for the GNUPG point. As user I really don't care how the source code looks as long as it works. Further GNUPG seems more or less secure to me - there weren't that many security advisories yet.

    And if you don't want it you can use PGP - there's a freeware version of it too.

    So WHAT are the advantages of Ciphire?
  • Re:Useless... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:05PM (#11447922) Homepage
    PGP is a cryptosystem that implements the OpenPGP protocol. This program is taking things like AES and RSA and making a new protocol. It's not a new cipher design.

    Though I too question some of their choices (2 layer encryption for instance...) the idea of a new system isn't a bad one.

    Let's not forget that SSL, SSH, PGP were HOMEBREW!!! Who knows, someone may invent a system simpler, smaller, faster, more secure, more able, etc, in the future.

    For instance, for what SSL does the standard is very complicated. I mean it verifies a cert, does key handshaking then encrypt/mac data. That's not complicated. why does it require a 70 page [non-programer friendly] RFC to describe it?

    I do agree that making something new for the sake of making something new isn't smart. And if that's what they did shame on them. But the fact is "new things" is what drives us anyways.

  • The way I see it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dorsai65 ( 804760 ) <dkmerriman@g m a i l . c om> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:05PM (#11447924) Homepage Journal

    it's another way to get signed/encrypted email into the hands of more people - whether they're geeks, or not. If it gets a few more people using some kind of authentication for email, then it's another strike against spammers/VXers; surely, it can't be all that bad, then, can it?

    Sure, it isn't GPG, PGP, or any of the more "traditional" encryption programs. But then, how many Joe/Jane Sixpacks do you know that use those, either? From reading the article, it seems to greatly simplify the process of installing and using email signing/encryption, and that's something that I've run into trying to get people to use GPG/PGP: "It's too complicated; I have to remember too much stuff".

    It looks like the security of it is being vetted, even if the source isn't as open as some would like (yet). Fine, it isn't "perfect" from a geek point of view, and it still has a way to go before it'll work on more email clients - but it's a start at de-geeking email crypto, which is something that can only help.

  • by Daniel Ellard ( 799842 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:08PM (#11447939)
    This is a common problem for protocol-oriented tools of this type, at least if I correctly guess what they're thinking...

    Such tools are useful iff their interface is rigidly defined. If it starts diverging into a dozen things that look similar but aren't entirely compatible, nobody will use any of them. If, on the other hand, the system is reasonably good at the start, the probability of major forks is reduced. So sometimes it's useful to keep such projects "closed" until it's stable and complete.

    At least, I have heard such arguments made in the past. The other alternative is that the code is such an embarassing mess that they don't want anyone to see it -- I've heard that argument made as well (heck, I've got code I plan to release someday myself, as soon as I get around to adequately commenting it...).

  • Re:GPG? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:15PM (#11447978)
    Absoulutely nothing. Ciphire might be 'the good guys' but how can you tell? Sure, they are 'going' to release their code, but what's in it right now?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:15PM (#11447981)
    My main problem with PGP was that I was never able to get anybody to use it, if this is really that easy, then I can finally tell my friends who don't want to know about my public key and their public key, to use it too. So now I go to their site and check it out. At least the site hasn't been slasdotted yet....
  • Re:Useless... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khrtt ( 701691 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:19PM (#11448005)
    1. There is no such thing as a "known secure cryptosystem". "Thought to be secure" is not the same thing, as people have proven many times over.

    2. PGP is not a cryptosystem - it's an application program. "Cryptosystem" means algorithm. It's the same thing as "cipher", essentially.
  • by DrSkwid ( 118965 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:19PM (#11448009) Homepage Journal
    ever heard the expression "secure by default"

    encrypted email stands out from unencrypted email

    Iif the bulk of email was encrypted then it is harder to determined that which is encrypted for a reason and that which isn't. This adds value to the use of encryption.

    I don't really need to ssh between servers on my LAN or run my vnc sessions though an ssh tunnel or use scp when I could use Samba but I do, partly because it means I am using best practices so when I am in a situation where it is desirable I am familiar with the operation and am familar with the tools I will need and not be sat there saying "bugger, I forgot to select 'use secure connection'".

    I don't really need to lock my car every time I walk 10 yards from it to the cashpoint but I do because it is best practice.

  • Transparent? Easy? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kickasso ( 210195 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:22PM (#11448018)
    Fuggedaboutit. There's a central server with an account for each user. There's a new GUI mail client (!) There's no compatibility with existing formats like S-MIME or PGP/GPG. Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Re:Useless... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ckaminski ( 82854 ) <slashdot-nospam@darthcoder . c om> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#11448029) Homepage
    Because when 99% of the Internet infrastructure needs to be able to properly handle SSL, you leave nothing to chance; you spell EVERYTHING out. You'd think the TCP/IP Protocol would be fairly simple too, no?
  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:45PM (#11448155) Homepage
    Well one benefit is that if you get your social circle to adopt it as well you have a spamblocker. Any uncyphered mail can be flushed down the spambucket. And even if spammers started cyphering messages they can't forge the source, so ultimately you can flush any unapproved cypher source address the spambucket.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:51PM (#11448195)
    I'm always suspicious when a technical review plays misleading word games. Here's an excerpt from their expert review pdf (page 18) :

    "With encryption solutions using PGP or S/MIME, an unsigned email message allows an attacker to forge the originator s identity even if the message is encrypted. The recipient cannot easily detect the change in the originator. However, in the Ciphire system, encryption includes authentication information. The session key used to encrypt the email message is digitally signed by the sender for every layer of encryption."

    Although a technically accurate statement, it is highly misleading by comparing signed verses unsigned functions and implying a deficiency in GPG where none exists. GPG/PGP supports the same signing ability.

  • by louarnkoz ( 805588 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @01:07PM (#11448292)
    If you look at the little pictues "how it works" on the ciphire site, it appears that before sending a mail to Bob, Alice retrieves Bob's certificate from the ciphire central server. Really? And that is private e-mail? They must be kidding!

    What do you think will happen if someone, say in the name of the war on drugs, wants to interfere? Presto, they can convince the central server to yank Bob's key from the directory and replace it by one of their choosing. Some privacy!

  • Re:GPG? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shokk ( 187512 ) <> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @01:07PM (#11448295) Homepage Journal
    What's wrong with a little competition? I thought that's what the whole open source thing was about...providing alternatives. What works for you might not work for me...etc, etc.
  • by TVC15 ( 518429 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @01:16PM (#11448340)
    8. PRIVACY Licensee hereby expressly agrees and acknowledges that Licensor may collect, store, disclose to third parties and otherwise use and process (collectively "Process") Personal Data in connection with the Services, this Agreement and Licensee's use of the Software, and Licensee hereby authorizes Licensor (including its officers, directors, employees and agents and its suppliers and licensors) to Process Personal Data to the extent reasonably required or useful in connection with the provision of the Services and/or the execution of this Agreement, and in compliance with Licensor's current privacy policy as shown on Licensor's website (

    whats that about?
  • just buy a certificate to make Ciphire work.

    The OpenPGP equivalent to a certificate is called a "plane ticket" whose price is called "airfare." Without a plane ticket, you often can't get your public key signed by people in the strongly connected web of trust. Without a signed public key, you can't build the web of trust, and without the web of trust, you can't verify a public key, which is the whole point of certificates.

  • Re:Useless... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by justins ( 80659 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @01:44PM (#11448495) Homepage Journal
    Oh, so as I understand it RFC2440 was written and THEN PGP v1 was written?

    Thanks for history v2.0

    Huh? You asked a question, I answered it.

    I certainly don't think RFC2440 is any less valid or useful for having been created after a successful implementation was created. That's how standards ought to be created. Standards created before the implementations, or in conjunction, are more likely to suck.

    The comparison with PGP and GPG is illustrative of why this new toy will not be leading to any new standards. No open source, no peer review, no new needs being addressed, no new ground being broken. Who gives a shit?
  • Re:Useless... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark*workfire ( 220796 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @02:13PM (#11448657)

    PGP is a known secure cryptosystem. Fact of the matter, there is no need for new cryptosystems.

    Well, I guess all that needs to be invented has been invented. We already have an operating system majority (Windows). There's already a major chip vendor (Intel). Antec makes the best cases, so lets just tell all the others to stop.

    Maybe, just maybe, a little mind opening is needed here? Perhaps there's something about (Cipher) that can be used in PGP, or vice versa. Slashdot is full of 'competition is a good thing' type quotes, and I'd say it applies here.

  • by mikep.maine ( 585648 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @02:22PM (#11448705) Homepage
    I have serious reservations about Ciphire. Seems more marketing than real science. I'll bet anyone of drinking age a beer that this doesn't becomes open source in 2005.

    What concerns me are comments like the following: "Each Ciphire certificate is reduced to a hash, an abbreviated mathematical identifier. Since the relationship between the hash and the certificate is reciprocal, the original hash would not match a certificate in which there was even the slightest change."

    Not so fast: (a) certificates already have a signed hash; (b) it is common practice to state which hashing algorithm is used (SHA, MD5, ...?). I hope its not homegrown hash; and (c) by definition, hash values have collision where more than one certificate can map to the same hash value.

    Just cause its an open-source wannabe doesn't mean its good for you. Let's hope for the best.

  • by Eric Smith ( 4379 ) * on Sunday January 23, 2005 @03:19PM (#11449043) Homepage Journal
    Some experts think that since DES has withstood so many years of scrutiny, and there still no atack significantly better than brute force, that triple-DES may be a better choice than AES, Twofish, and Serpent, none of which have yet been subject to a comparable amount of cryptanalysis. Yet triple-DES isn't in the list on the ciphers page. Why not?

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard