Tag Archives: decrypt

Facebook is *NOT* Decrypting Your Secure Messages!

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Today, a story broke, claiming that

FACEBOOK TO DECRYPT “SECURE” MESSAGES OVER CYBER-BULLYING ACCUSATIONS

This appeared to originate on the InfoWars.com site.  While that site has some interesting stuff and breaks some stories, it also over hypes much of it and posts an amazing amount of conspiracy theory stuff.

But, none of that is reason to automatically disbelieve this claim.  But this is… the first paragraph of the story, explains it all.  I hate facebook for many reasons, especially for its privacy violations, so I can’t believe I’m defending them on this, but this has been blown all out of proportion.  Specifically…

“When you report a secret conversation, recent messages from that conversation will be decrypted and sent securely from your device to our Help Team for review,”

Facebook  DOES NOT DECRYPT the secret messages!!!. YOU DO!  And then you voluntarily SEND IT to facebook.

Now, that’s not to say that they don’t do other nefarious stuff, because they DO!  But this is not one of them.  The ONLY way Facebook can see the encrypted conversation is if someone in the conversation MAKES A CONSCIOUS CHOICE to send it to facebook.  And that conversation is decrypted by that participant’s phone, NOT by facebook themselves.

So, step back, take a breath, and brow beat facebook for their many other privacy violations that actually do exist.

Disclaimer:  If Facebook is decrypting messages, this InfoWars story’s first paragraph text refutes that, in spite of all the hype later.

Lawsuit claims Facebook illegally scanned private messages

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Encrypt Individual Files (Desktop)

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This is the 3rd article in a series of articles about encrypting your entire digital life from end to end.  Click here for the lead article.  This article is about encrypting individual files on your desktop computer.  I’ll be giving specific instructions for Windows, but Mac & Linux steps are similar.

Short (VERY short version)

    1. Install encryption software.
    2. Create your encryption keys.
    3. Encrypt a file.
    4. Decrypt a file.

The rest of this shows you the details of those steps.

Review or brush up

Before you go any further, it’s really important that you are familiar with the basics of modern day encryption.  Please review this article on understanding encryption:

I will be using terminology that won’t make sense to you if you have not read the “Understand Encryption” article or are not already fairly familiar with encryption and how it’s implemented in modern technology.

Let’s begin

    1. Download and install Gpg4win from http://www.gpg4win.org/
    2. Once installed, you’ll need to import your friends’ public keys (if you plan on sending them anything encrypted) and create your own (if you don’t already have any).
      1. Open Kleopatra (it’s installed with Gpg4win).  It’s a key management application.
      2. Click the “Lookup Certificates on server” button and enter your friends’ names and/or e-mail addresses to see if they have public keys.  If they’re not published, you can easily ask them directly.  Most likely, most of your friends do not yet.  I’d encourage you to get them started on this.
      3. Now, create or import YOUR key pair.  Close Kleopatra and open GPA.  Yes, it’s almost a clone of Kleopatra.  No, I don’t know why there are two of these tools.  But Gpa will let you create key pairs.
      4. Open the “Keys” menu and choose “New Key”.
      5. Enter your name (you can’t change this, so choose wisely), then “Next”, then your e-mail address.
      6. Yes, you want a backup copy.
      7. Enter your passphrase… DO NOT EVER FORGE IT!  DON’T BE STUPID – MAKE IT COMPLEX!  I recommend saving it in LastPass.com (get set up with LastPass.com if you’re not already.  It’s TOTALLY worth it (free)).
      8. Right-click your new key and choose “Export Certificate to Server” which will export your public key to a public key server for others to find so they can send you encrypted data.
    3. Now that your contacts’ keys are imported and you’ve created your own key, let’s encrypt a file.
      1. Open Windows Explorer (I said _Windows_ Explorer, NOT _Internet_ explorer!) and find some file that you’d like to encrypt.
      2. Right-click the file and choose “Sign & Encrypt” (You don’t have to do both signing AND encrypting.  You can do just one, if you like).
      3. In the dialog box, make sure “Encrypt” is selected.  If you’d like to compress it before you encrypt it, be sure to check “Archive files with”.  Because you can’t compress it AFTER you encrypt it!
      4. Click “Next” then pick your recipient (who you want to be able to decrypt the file).  If it’s just you, then choose your own key.

To decrypt the file, just right-click it and choose decrypt.  It will know which key was used and will prompt you for the passphrase.

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Understanding Encryption

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The topic of encrypting is wide and deep, so I’ll narrow this discussion to the basics of what you need to understand about E-Mail encryption and I’ll be as concise as possible.  This also begins a series of articles on encryption I’ll be writing over the next week or two explaining everything you need for end-to-end encryption for everything in your digital life from files on your mobile device to phone calls to everything on your PC.  All software in my series will be free and open source.

Encryption and Decryption

When you send an encrypted message to someone else, you must have that person’s public key.  This is an encryption key that they publish on public key servers for anyone and everyone to have access to.  These public keys can only encrypt messages.  They cannot decrypt messages.  If you encrypt a message with a friend’s public key, there is NO WAY you can decrypt it, not even with the public key you just used to encrypt it.

Why?  Because the public key was created with a complex mathematical formula that actually created TWO keys that work together.    Anything encrypted with ONE key can ONLY be decrypted with its pair key.  When you use your friend’s public key to encrypt a message before sending it to them, ONLY your friend can decrypt that message and they must do it with their private key.

Conversely, when someone sends YOU an encrypted message, they MUST encrypt it with YOUR public key.  ALL encrypted messages YOU receive MUST have been encrypted with YOUR public key.

YOU create a public/private key pair with a key generator.  There are many apps that can generate key pairs.  OpenPGP is a popular standard for keys.  That simply means that software designed to encrypt or decrypt has been written for standardized encrypting algorithms.  OpenPGP is a very popular algorithm.

When your friend sends you an encrypted message, encrypted with YOUR public key, only YOU can decrypt that message and ONLY with your private key that was created along with your public key.

Your public key is meant to be shared.  That’s how people encrypt messages intended for you.  Your private key is exactly that:  Private.  You MUST protect is and never, EVER give anyone access to it.  This means do NOT store it on a cloud drive.  Do NOT EVER e-mail it to anyone, not even yourself, because as soon as you hit “send”, it’s now passing through the internet, unencrypted.  If you ever make the mistake of e-mailing your private key or storing it on a cloud drive, you should consider that key compromised.  You’ll have to revoke the key and create a new pair.  It’s now well known that the NSA intercepts all e-mail traffic.  If you EVER e-mail your private key, there’s a nearly 100% chance that the government now has your private key and has the ability to decrypt any and all content encrypted for you with your public key.

Digitally Signing content.

A neat side effect of having public/private key pairs is that you can reverse how you use them.  For example, instead of encrypting a message with people’s public keys, you could encrypt a message with your PRIVATE key.  Under normal circumstances, you’d NEVER do this because 100% of the population has access to your PUBLIC key and ANYTHING encrypted with your PRIVATE key can be decrypted with your PUBLIC key.

So, why would you do this?

Simple, if you want to PROVE that a document was actually created or sent by YOU.  Encrypting data with your PRIVATE key (instead of your public key) is called “Digitally signing” the content.  Even though, mathematically, it’s the same thing as encrypting, in practice, that encryption is useless for secrets because the decryption key (your public key) is well known.  But, just like data encrypted with your public key can only be decrypted with your private key, data encrypted with your private key can ONLY be decrypted with your public key.

So, if you ever want to prove you’re the sender of an e-mail message, you will digitally sign it before sending it (or encrypt it with your private key).  The receiver can get your public key from any number of public key rings and decrypt your message, proving that it had to have been encrypted (or “signed”) with ONLY your private key.

Let me reinforce that “encrypting” with your private key is NOT considered “encrypting” since anyone can decrypt it.  It’s considered “digitally signing”.

Got it?  Good!  Now, go encrypt all the things!

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Check back later for updates too!

Next, be sure to read the next article in this encryption series:

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