S/MIME and PGP Email Encryption Flaws Affecting Millions Discovered by EFF

Computer encryption

The researchers have already contacted email service providers through the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The EFF has issued detailed tutorials on how to disable PGP encryption in the major email clients such as Outlook and Apple Mail. "If you use PGP/GPG or S/MIME for very sensitive communication, you should disable it in your email client for now", Schinzel wrote in a tweet.

Academics from Münster University of Applied Sciences, along with their peers at Ruhr University Bochum, and KU Löwen in Belgium, said they were able to break two types of encryption that until now were so secure that even intelligence agencies couldn't penetrate.

A second Tweet warns "There are now no reliable fixes for the vulnerability".

Werner Koch, principle author of GnuPG, described the issue as "overblown" by the EFF in a blog post today.

A newly-discovered software vulnerability means it may be possible to read encrypted emails sent in the past.

Another way would be to use authenticated encryption via tools such as OpenPGP, he argued. Users are advised to disable the following email encryption add-ons: Gpg4win for Outlook, Enigmail for Thunderbird and GPGTools for Apple Mail.

According to encryption software GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG), the problem comes from email programs that fail to check for decryption errors properly and follow links in emails that included HTML code.

Though researchers are warning users of the seriousness of the vulnerability, many believe it is being hyped too much.

PGP is used by activists, journalists and whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, who revealed details of pervasive electronic surveillance by USA intelligence agencies before fleeing to Russian Federation. In the meantime, they are recommending that users stop using OpenPGP and S/MIME for now. Dmitri Strukov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, and his team are working to put an additional security measure on internet-connected devices to prevent hackers from cloning them. The researchers claim the chip is unclonable, and thus, protects the device from hacking, replication or counterfeiting by the hackers.

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