Researchers Warn Of Critical PGP And S/MIME Email Encryption Vulnerabilities

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A group of European security researchers have discovered vulnerabilities that could be exploited to "reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails", including those sent in the distant past, CSO reported.

The attack works on past trails of messages; so, for example, if a regime has been stealthily collecting emails sent by suspected dissidents in hopes of someday decrypting them, EFAIL will allow a nation-state to force the person's email client to now decrypt them.

The problem had been investigated by Sebastian Schinzel, at Munster University of Applied Sciences.

By comparison, the Gadget Attack affects a much wider variety of mail clients, including Microsoft's Outlook, but ranges in efficacy based on whether it's used against PGP or S/MIME encryption.

In fact, users are being advised to stop using and disable the encryption tools immediately in their email client if they use them for sensitive communications.

S/MIME is very similar to PGP except that instead of users defining their own encryption methods and web of trust (how to share their private encryption keys), S/MIME uses predefined encryption standards and public-private keypairs distributed by a trusted authority.

Here are the steps to temporarily disable PGP plug-ins to avoid exposure until these flaws are fixed. This attack relies on a three-part message being sent.

PGP is considered the standard for email encryption and was first introduced way back in 1991.

End-to-end encryption is used specifically to secure emails that have been compromised in those manners.

However, Werner Koch, free software developer and author of the GNU Privacy Guard, posted information on Monday which claims the warnings from EFF are "pretty overblown".

"Malleability of these two encryption modes is well-known and has been exploited in many attacks on network protocols like TLS, IPsec, or SSH, but it has not been exploited in plaintext-recovery attacks on email standards", the researchers wrote. "Or if you really need to read them use a proper MIME parser and disallow any access to external links", he says. He recommended switching off HTML emails or using authenticated encryption.

Yet chances are good that numerous people who use OpenPGP do so via affected email clients. "In 2018, businesses must re-evaluate how they communicate, opting to phase out email for secure communications solutions that are open-source, independently audited and end-to-end encrypted".

More details are to be published on May 15 at 07:00 AM UTC (3:00 AM Eastern, midnight Pacific) by the team.

A vulnerability exists in programs PGP, GPG and S/MIME.

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