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Encryption Privacy Government Security Technology

Lavabit Is Relaunching (theintercept.com) 54

The encrypted email service once used by whistleblower Edward Snowden is relaunching today. Ladar Levison, the founder of the encrypted email service Lavabit, announced on Friday that he's relaunching the service with a new architecture that fixes the SSL problem and includes other privacy-enhancing features as well, such as one that obscures the metadata on emails to prevent government agencies like the NSA and FBI from being able to find out with whom Lavabit users communicate. In addition, he's also announcing plans to roll out end-to-end encryption later this year. The Intercept provides some backstory in its report: In 2013, [Levison] took the defiant step of shutting down the company's service rather than comply with a federal law enforcement request that could compromise its customers' communications. The FBI had sought access to the email account of one of Lavabit's most prominent users -- Edward Snowden. Levison had custody of his service's SSL encryption key that could help the government obtain Snowden's password. And though the feds insisted they were only after Snowden's account, the key would have helped them obtain the credentials for other users as well. Lavabit had 410,000 user accounts at the time. Rather than undermine the trust and privacy of his users, Levison ended the company's email service entirely, preventing the feds from getting access to emails stored on his servers. But the company's users lost access to their accounts as well. Levison, who became a hero of the privacy community for his tough stance, has spent the last three years trying to ensure he'll never have to help the feds break into customer accounts again. "The SSL key was our biggest threat," he says.
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Lavabit Is Relaunching

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  • It is nice to have a good transport layer for E-mail, but no matter how well secure it is, it is wise to have your final message/file encryption be separate, just in case something happens. The same reason people put stuff in a physical, sealed envelope before it goes into the courier's hands, even though the courier is 100% trustworthy.

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      I seem to remember that you aren't supposed to send cash in the mail because letters with cash tend to get lost in the mail at a higher rate than letters without cash.

  • by Indy1 ( 99447 ) <spamtrap@fuckedregime.com> on Friday January 20, 2017 @06:17PM (#53707339) Homepage

    so even if 100% of the service is hosted overseas, the gestapo errr FBI and NSA, will still put pressure on him to compromise the service.

    Any more, you want fed proof email, 100% of the solution has to be fed proof.

    That means non US citizens as employees working in a fed proof country, and servers hosted in a fed proof country.

    I think proton mail fits this need well.

    • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Friday January 20, 2017 @06:31PM (#53707431) Journal

      While I think we all agree that nothing is invincible, you want it to be a very hard problem to break, and one that the site owner can't facilitate. Further you want tamper evidence, thus even if he's served an NSL with gag any action on it will betray that something's up.

      In other news, I'll be a customer again :)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      to move viable commercial amd government computer equipment overseas where no local host may tamper with nuisamce physical facility take-over messages: a place where overseas the Crown of England and the Shah of Iran cant colonize or co-habit because the natives will be opinionated and armed without infringing regulations and are all able-bodied since rejecting GMO foods: ladies and gentlemen, im talking about America.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Be careful, Protonmail sounds like "security charade" and nothing else.

      They claim their webclient is open source, except that on their github page you can only find the source code of older versions, not the current one. That's basically equivalent to using closed source software.

      They claim their protocol is OpenPGP-compliant, but for some strange reason they don't want to let users access their mail with third-party OpenPGP-compliant clients. After a lot of complaints, now they are releasing a beta, closed

    • yes, where the service is hosted is unimportant since the US government always can put you into troubles since you are a resident citizen of the US. Because it's not the servers that are thrown into jail for not complying with the warrant.
    • so even if 100% of the service is hosted overseas, the gestapo errr FBI and NSA, will still put pressure on him to compromise the service.

      Any more, you want fed proof email, 100% of the solution has to be fed proof.

      The problem has to be 100% fed-proof, too. For example as an American no such solution can exist because I am not physically "fed-proof" myself!

      If the sender and recipient are both not in the US, they can probably avoid this problem by other means, assuming they can prevent unauthorized access.

      I'm still not sure what a legit use case even is; it seems like it would be more effective to just use an email provider that hires a staff attorney and promises to defend customers if their email speech is illegally

  • Levison had custody of his service's SSL encryption key that could help the government obtain Snowden's password.

    If they could have obtained the password, Lavabit must have been doing things really wrong, no? Salting and hashing and all that...

  • by rainwalker ( 174354 ) on Friday January 20, 2017 @06:41PM (#53707493)

    ProtonMail [protonmail.com] already exists, has 2 million users, excellent security and architectural design, zero knowledge on the part of the provider, 2 factor authentication, optional two password setup (one for the account, another to decrypt the inbox), is located in Switzerland instead of the US, etc. It's also trivial to use, the importance of which can't be overstated.

    In contrast, the new LavaBit is promising end-to-end encryption "later this year", as opposed to PM, which has always had it. It's concerning that a single SSL certificate was the only barrier between the users and total decryption. More competition is always good, but this looks like a significant step down from an existing service.

    • by chill ( 34294 )

      And they just added Tor support [techcrunch.com], with their own .onion address.

      https://protonirockerxow.onion/ [protonirockerxow.onion]

      For when you absolutely, positively want your e-mail to be slower than traditional post service.

      • For when you absolutely, positively want your email to be stored by the NSA to await improvements in decryption technology. ;)

        If you have no secrets, then you can encrypt safely. If you have actual secrets, then it is very dangerous to encrypt and transmit them because you're guaranteeing that your communication will be archived. If it is unencrypted then somebody might read it, but if they don't it will at least be archived in less places and perhaps eventually purged.

        A more sure way to keep a secret secre

        • 90% of everything isn't secrets. If I encrypt everything, then I just have to make the 10% look like the other 90% before it's encrypted. By the time stored messages are decrypted, odds are good that either they'll lack the context to tell the difference, or that they'll know so much about that particular topic that the additional knowledge about the 10% won't be helpful. Plus, they'll have to put equal effort into getting nowhere with the 90% that's garbage.
    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      Have a look at mailbox.org. The people there are really competent for mail. posteo is another good option, they e.g. published their dovecot plugin to decrypt mails on access to store them safely.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2017 @08:10PM (#53708179)

      Protonmail is just security charade.

      They claim their webclient is open source, except that on their github page you can only find the source code of older versions, not the current one. That's basically equivalent to using closed source software.

      They claim their protocol is OpenPGP-compliant, but for some strange reason they don't want to let users access their mail with third-party OpenPGP-compliant clients. After a lot of complaints, now they are releasing a beta, closed-source client to access the mailbox. Long story short: it's impossible to know for sure if they use the OpenPGP protocol or something else.

      They claim they are protected by "swiss privacy laws", that have just been heavily watered down, and weren't particularly strict before either, contrary to popular legends: for example, Greece has far stricter privacy legislation than Switzerland, according to Privacy International.

      And obviously they have an "underground bunker" for their servers, which is really useful from an IT security standpoint, and surely isn't just marketing crap.

      I would definitely trust Lavabit far more: their current source code is public, they use standard encryption protocols, and their founder already proved to be ready to stand up to the FBI.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ANY service that requires your browser to download and execute the crypto code from THE SERVICE... is a flawed service.
        You should be able to get the executed code from a third party coder. Otherwise the service can be ordered or backdoored or twisted into serving your browser defective crypto and other code.
        You're a fucking fool to use browsers in the way proton or lava does.

        Furthermore, SMTP is plain fucking broken in regards to cleartext headers, in particular to/from/cc/subject.
        And SMTP is plain fucking

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Please, please, can we have groklaw back? http://groklaw.net/ Pamela?

  • Question... With all the various contortions that the metadata takes, how well do they handle spam? I guess all the checks are done prior to storing the email on their servers?

    • Any time you're using a small non-mainstream email host you have to expect to get spam and to have to handle the filtering client-side, with all the imperfections involved.

      However, if you're using secure email you can probably just trash anything that isn't encrypted anyways. And if spammers encrypt, just start adding their public keys to a filter. People paranoid enough to use this type of service, and non-technical enough to trust a service that purports to have these features, probably also have a "norma

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wasn't Lavabit's experience what caused the wonderful Pamela Jones to shut down Groklaw?

    Lord, how I miss that website. God bless you, PJ, wherever you are.

    • No, she was tired of running it and grabbed a convenient political reason to rage-quit.

      The site is still up, you can re-read the quit letter anytime; she says she was rage-quitting the internet, not just quitting the site.

      As somebody who was "online" on BBSes before the internet was made public, my take is that we always knew that the internet wasn't private... and that it never claimed to be! That is what private networks are for, after all. Just like, of course the sysop of a BBS can read your email! Some

  • SSL problem fixed: the key is now in a Hardware Security Module and cannot be seized by police.

    That fixes communication, but what about stored data. And why the FBI couldn't seize the hardware security module itself?

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday January 20, 2017 @10:17PM (#53708839) Journal
    what is needed is to require emails to be encrypted at the client side.
    With each new client set-up, any new users should be required to get their encryption key, or enter in their current ones.
    Then on the emails, by default, encrypt. If the user wants, they can turn it off on an individual one.
  • We know that Levison is both capable with regards to technology and has excellent personal integrity. Add to that that he now also understand the legal angle better and this is one of the most secure offerings available.

  • Collateral damage from the shutdown of Lavabit was the closure of Groklaw.

I find you lack of faith in the forth dithturbing. - Darse ("Darth") Vader

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