Feds tell major internet service providers to decrypt and hand over users' account passwords


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Such a warm feeling I get at the thought of some quasi-governmental asshole digging through my business plans because my ISP handed the asshole the keys.


So, maybe if the passwords are encrypted with a symmetric cipher. What if they’re salted hashes?

The United States Government is the APT to end all APTs. If anyone has rainbow tables to salted MD5 and SHA-1, they do. And let’s face it, if a site uses a scheme like this to protect their password DBs, they’re already ahead of the curve.

Time for PBKDF2 or better. Fuck the spooks.


Even better, people definitely don’t reuse passwords across systems all the damn time so this certainly doesn’t make a little extracurricular spying on services who have not been ordered to hand over passwords entirely trivial. No sirree bob, not at all.


The Feds would have a problem with a system I’d designed, because the passwords aren’t encrypted. Nor are they stored. What’s stored is a one-way hash of the password using a nasty, nasty method (BCrypt) that’s designed to not only be irreversible, it’s also infeasible to apply in bulk to defeat off-line dictionary attacks. The system can verify that an entered password matches the one that was set for the account, but it doesn’t know what the password you set was. You can’t give to anybody what you don’t have.


Storing only a secure/irreversable hash of the password should be standard practice these days. I’d say that anyone who stores plaintext passwords is running serious liability risk. So I expect that what the gummint actually asked for was the hashed passwords and the formula for the trap door hash the company is using.

Given that, they can afford to throw computation at it to do an exhaustive search for the password. “Infeasable” carries the caveat “within a reasonable budget, and assuming you’re looking for a specific password rather than bulk-matching against the entire file” – and government and reasonable budget are known to not always occur in the same sentence. (Not to mention that the definition of “reasonable” depends on how important it is to you to get the answer.)

Note too that when you’ve got a hash, they don’t have to find the right password – just one that has the same hash value.Unless the hash has extremely low odds of collision (eg has many more bits than the passwords do and scatters well across that space), that does represent a slight weakening of cryptographic strength in exchange for the huge gain of not having the passwords ever stored as plaintext.

Remember recently published studies (some cited here on BB) showing that even an unsophisticated effort can brute-force a huge percentage of a typical pile of passwords. Sure, a trapdoor cypher which is more expensive to compute does reduce the speed of that result… but that’s typically not going to be by much more than an order of magnitude or two, for a given size password.

We need to train people to use longer and less obvious passwords. At least on systems they care about and that might offer progressive attack paths against other systems. That’s got better odds of better protection than just running fancier math on a short single-word-or-common-phrase password.

Either that, or people need to learn that anything on line should be presumed to be insecure.

Or both.

If Anthony Wiener had waited a few days he could have said the Feds did it. In fact if some of the people that are targeted for surveillance actually end up in a court room I wonder if the feds have just laid the groundwork for reasonable doubt concerning any internet based evidence.

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Even if (say) google hashes passwords before storing them there is no reason why they would not keep a version in plain text to give out on request.

Hard to believe the feds would invent the code name Carlos Danger and not forsee the shame it would bring them.

USA, you are ruining the internet for all of us. Please stop it, or muzzle your hounds.

I’ve been wondering. What happens if, say, Google calls the bluff? What happens if the feds say “give us unrestricted access to your user data or we’re shutting you down,” and the next day Google replaces every service they offer around the globe with a page that says, “Regretfully, the United States government has forbidden us to continue providing secure service <search/email/whatever> to our valued customers,” followed by a list of Congressional phone numbers organized by state.


I’m normally first in line to criticize expanded surveillance or anything that reduces our privacy, but there doesn’t seem to be much content at all to this article.

The article quotes two sources, both anonymous and then lists a long list of the biggest names on the internet who declined to comment or didn’t respond at all. The rest of the article is all background info on security and privacy online.

If they are on the record it is probably illegal for them to reply in a manner that gives information.

In librarian circles at least, “nobody’s asked for this data” means just that, while “I can neither confirm nor deny that government agents have asked for this data” means “fuck yes they did.”


There is no reason except laziness or incompetence to keep plaintext user passwords. Keeping only hashes has been standard practice for decades.

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Trust me, the majority of Americans feel the same way you do.

I see you write in the genre of fantasy. ; )

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Apart from being ordered to by the Government,

I … I think … I think this could lead somewhere …

There’s every reason why. They have no need to do so, and by doing do they would make themselves legally liable for any lost data. Sure, they could, technically, but only an idiot would.

This is why password recovery mechanisms generally do NOT send you the old password, but give you another way to authenticate yourself and then send you a new one. They don’t know your old password. They don’t want to know your old password. All they need or want is to be able to recognize it when you type it in.

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