[messaging] Transparency for E2E encrypted messaging at a centralized service

Joseph Bonneau jbonneau at gmail.com
Sun Mar 30 09:10:58 PDT 2014

> > There is maybe some sense that the log provides "proof" that the people
> > verifying their own communication can use to publish their findings of a
> > MITM, but since the log itself is controllable by those parties (they
> > are capable of changing their own keys to whatever they would like in
> > the log), everyone still just has to take their word for it.
> For this reason, while I agree there's some "deterrence value" in
> threatening to expose the service if it launches a MITM, I think this
> value is limited (the service has a good chance of trying out a MITM
> and getting away with it, while the user either ignores the notice or
> freaks out to a world that doesn't believe them).
> I also think services would be reluctant to advertise this as a
> feature ("If you ever get a key-change notification you didn't expect,
> just freak out and tell everyone we're discredited!"), and might be
> reluctant to adopt this due to the reputation risk.
> So how to explain and market this to services, as well as their users,
> seems like an open question.

Worth stepping back and re-stating the original design motivation. This is
not intended to be a better solution for users capable of maintaining a
secure client, installing a good crypto app properly, and securely
verifying fingerprints with their contacts ("everybody downloads and uses
PGP world"). The goal is to provide *something* for users at a centralized
service that gives end-to-end encryption in such a way that some public
confidence can be built up in the service provider, and the service
provider has a technical reason to refuse surveillance requests.

This thread has raised a number of doubts about how possible this is but
the main question here should really be, would the centralized service have
a significantly enhanced motivation and ability to fight off surveillance
requests? I think there would be some increase, but the significance is
debatable, and I'm somewhat persuaded by Trevor's "inaccurate loaded gun"
thinking that companies wouldn't want to take this risk.

Perhaps there's a deeper impossibility result here-this system would be
great if only there were a way to build the system such that disputes over
certificate issuance were easy for the public to adjudicate. But that would
necessarily imply that you had a way to build a publicly-agreed upon map of
people to certs, which is the original problem...
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