Security flaws found in Apple Mail can reveal encrypted email as plaintext

Security flaws found in Apple Mail can reveal encrypted email as plaintext

Werner Koch of GNUPrivacyGuard (GnuPG), an open source PGP privacy suite, said the EFF's warning was "overblown" and said he hadn't been contacted.

The security flaws that have been discovered could potentially leak the contents of the encrypted messages you send and receive via email when signed with PGP or S/MIME encryption methods. It's suggested that users "immediately disable and/or uninstall tools that automatically decrypt PGP-encrypted email". The first is a "direct exfiltration" attack that relies on clients such as Apple Mail, iOS Mail, and Mozilla Thunderbird rendering encrypted email as HTML.

The full details of the flaw are set for release at 7am UTC on Tuesday, which is 3am on the U.S. eastern seaboard, midnight Pacific time, 5pm in Sydney, and 12:30pm in Mumbai.

If you use Thunderbird with Enigmail, Apple Mail with GPGTools or Outlook with Gpg4win the EFF has step-by-step tutorials to temporarily disable their PGP plug-ins. "The attack has a large surface, since for each encrypted email sent to n recipients, there are n + 1 mail clients that are susceptible to our attack", the abstract of the research paper reads. 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.

But it said that, correctly used and configured, both forms of encryption remained secure.

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PGP works using an algorithm to generate a "hash", or mathematical summary, of a user's name and other information.

That the vulnerability also affects S/MIME, however, may be more significant because S/MIME is much more widely deployed by businesses to secure their email communications.

PGP - short for Pretty Good Privacy - was invented back in 1991 by Phil Zimmermann and has always been viewed as a secure form of end-to-end encryption impossible for outsiders to access.

The PGP encryption is mostly used by political activists, journalists, and whistleblowers as an extra layer of encryption. This is then encrypted with the sender's private "key" and decrypted by the receiver using a separate public key.

It recommended that users switch for the time being to secure messaging app Signal for sensitive communications. In addition the mails would need to be in HTML format and have active links to external content to be vulnerable.

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