Diplomatic encryption system used by Irish government sold by company owned by CIA

Orbit v2

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It's long been suspected that the US and the UK were intercepting Irish diplomatic communications, but some interesting information has come to light suggesting that not only is it true, but that we actually paid big money for the "privilege".

Reports in the The Register and The Washington Post today show that the Swiss company, Crypto AG, which sold expensive equipment for encrypting diplomatic communications was actually owned jointly by the CIA and the West German BND.

The link below contains a suggestion that the Irish government paid a million quid for the devices, only to have them monitored by GCHQ during the sensitive period leading to the Anglo Irish agreement in 1985.


During the sensitive Anglo-Irish negotiations of 1985, the NSA's British counterpart, the gchq, was able to decipher the coded diplomatic traffic being sent between the Irish embassy in London and the Irish Foreign Ministry in Dublin. It was reported in the Irish press that Dublin had purchased a cryptographic system from Crypto AG worth more than a million Irish pounds. It was also reported that the NSA routinely monitored and deciphered the Irish diplomatic messages.
 


enuffisenuff

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and is it still used?
 

Barroso

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It's long been suspected that the US and the UK were intercepting Irish diplomatic communications, but some interesting information has come to light suggesting that not only is it true, but that we actually paid big money for the "privilege".

Reports in the The Register and The Washington Post today show that the Swiss company, Crypto AG, which sold expensive equipment for encrypting diplomatic communications was actually owned jointly by the CIA and the West German BND.

The link below contains a suggestion that the Irish government paid a million quid for the devices, only to have them monitored by GCHQ during the sensitive period leading to the Anglo Irish agreement in 1985.

I don't know why they'd have bothered monitoring the communications.
All they had to do was just ask FitzGarbled and he would have told them anything they wanted to know!
I think they might have had a mole or three in the Guards, G3 and the Dáil too at the time.
 

Barroso

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The follow-up question is - who have they bought their current equipment off?
How many back doors are there into it?
 

dunno

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Sadly, OP's example is in the 'water is wet territory.' Anything of that sort likely had a backdoor for the glowies.
 

Orbit v2

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The follow-up question is - who have they bought their current equipment off?
How many back doors are there into it?
That's a reasonable question. Or better, what would you have to do to minimise the chance that back doors are in the equipment you use? It's down to trust. These governments saw no reason not to trust Crypto AG. That the German government was involved raises questions now about who you can trust in the EU also.

One part of the answer could be that you want to minimise the number of external parties that you trust, eg by using proven algorithms and probably open source software that you keep a very close eye on. All this requires expertise though and small countries like Ireland tend not to have it, though it is easier nowawdays and a bit harder for the spooks, which you can see from the arguments that the US government is having with tech giants like Apple over getting access to locked iphones and the like.

You can't guarantee security but you can minimise the risk for particular use cases - one of which could be mobile phone conversations between dlplomats/politicians. It's reasonable to suppose that a lot could be done to make that much more secure than simply using off the shelf phones with their native telephony software.
 
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Furze

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Is this about Huawei - next backdoor generation:cool:
 

CatullusV

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Having worked in this area for decades I would consider ithem negligent if they weren't using an additional layer of encryption.. superncryption is the standard
Even if you use encryption hardware, it is advisable to use encryption at the software level.
 

Orbit v2

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Having worked in this area for decades I would consider ithem negligent if they weren't using an additional layer of encryption.. superncryption is the standard
Even if you use encryption hardware, it is advisable to use encryption at the software level.
Remember this was the 80's It was probably just a scrambling system for fixed line telephones. You would put a device over the mouthpiece at one end and over the earpiece at the other end. It wasn't the kind of digital software driven device we are familiar with today.

There's a piece in today's IT about it, including a quote from the former directory of military intelligence here, to the effect that they would have expected the Brits and Yanks to be intercepting. If that is really true (and it's questionable) then who were they protecting themselves from? The media?
 

jmcc

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Having worked in this area for decades I would consider ithem negligent if they weren't using an additional layer of encryption.. superncryption is the standard
Even if you use encryption hardware, it is advisable to use encryption at the software level.
Think that during the Anglo-Irish agreement negotiations, Aer Lingus pilots and couriers were used rather than the Crypto AG devices.
 

jmcc

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Remember this was the 80's It was probably just a scrambling system for fixed line telephones.
There is a big difference between a scrambling system and an encryption system of the type used for diplomatic traffic.

You would put a device over the mouthpiece at one end and over the earpiece at the other end. It wasn't the kind of digital software driven device we are familiar with today.
The WaPo piece is a bit sensationalist but most people don't seem to have much knowledge of cryptography and the systems that were in use in the 1980s. "The Puzzle Palace" and "Body Of Secrets" by James Bamford provide a good intro to what NSA was doing over the years. There is even a relevant section on Crypto AG and its connections with NSA in Stephen Budiansky's latest book on Cold War crypto "Code Warriors".

Most of the systems in use at the time were building on some of the DES and Enigma work. The DES was a published standard at the time and many people thought it was unbreakable. Some of the speculation on the Crypto AG devices is that the manuals on usage were modified so that the setup process would be intentionally weakened. There were also different versions of the devices sold to countries.

This is worth reading:

There's a piece in today's IT about it, including a quote from the former directory of military intelligence here, to the effect that they would have expected the Brits and Yanks to be intercepting. If that is really true (and it's questionable) then who were they protecting themselves from? The media?
Ever hear of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact? They were big in the 1980s and they weren't Louis Walsh boy bands. :)
 
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CatullusV

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There is a big difference between a scrambling system and an encryption system of the type used for diplomatic traffic.

The WaPo piece is a bit sensationalist but most people don't seem to have much knowledge of cryptography and the systems that were in use in the 1980s. "The Puzzle Palace" and "Body Of Secrets" by James Bamford provide a good intro to what NSA was doing over the years. There is even a relevant section on Crypto AG and its connections with NSA in Stephen Budiansky's latest book on Cold War crypto "Code Warriors".

Most of the systems in use at the time were building on some of the DES and Enigma work. The DES was a published standard at the time and many people thought it was unbreakable. Some of the speculation on the Crypto AG devices is that the manuals on usage were modified so that the setup process would be intentionally weakened. There were also different versions of the devices sold to countries.

This is worth reading:

Ever hear of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact? They were big in the 1980s and they weren't Louis Walsh boy bands. :)
DES and Triple DES are still in use.

RSA emerged in the 70s. A hint as to its strength is that GCHQ had developed a similar tool in the 60s, but kept it to themselves.

If anyone needs a hint as to German capabilities and awareness it lies in the fact that some years ago they reverted to the typewriter for the most sensitive documents. That was not merely defensive - it was a sign that they knew the level of the interception capabilities of other actors. They knew because they were at it.
 

jmcc

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DES and Triple DES are still in use.
DES was decertified in 2004, I think. Basically it was under serious attack in the late 1980s and early 1990s because it was used in the VideoCipher II Pay TV system in the US and as the basis for the EuroCrypt system (developed by France Telecom) on D2-MAC in the 1990s. Both systems were compromised (hardware attacks rather than software). There were also successful theoretical attacks on DES in the early 1990s but it was completely compromised in the late 1990s.

RSA emerged in the 70s. A hint as to its strength is that GCHQ had developed a similar tool in the 60s, but kept it to themselves.
GCHQ were well ahead of the curve with public key crypto. Secure key exchange was one of the hardest problems up to that point.

If anyone needs a hint as to German capabilities and awareness it lies in the fact that some years ago they reverted to the typewriter for the most sensitive documents. That was not merely defensive - it was a sign that they knew the level of the interception capabilities of other actors. They knew because they were at it.
Think that it was KGB/FSB. But apparently they were even more freaked out when the Spycatcher revelations (?) indicated that the acoustics from typewriters could be useful.
 

CatullusV

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As I say Triple DES is still a thing. Coincidentally i am at the moment reconfiguring a Mainframe LDAP server to use TLS rather the compromised SSL

It's scary how quickly things change in crypto.

One solution I implemented involve an in-house superencryption with thre algorithm kept utterly secret.. security by obscurity. Easy enough to crack, I'd guess, if you had the technique, which is why the specs and and the source are in a vault in a cave somewhere
 

Orbit v2

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There is a big difference between a scrambling system and an encryption system of the type used for diplomatic traffic.
Sure, but what do you think was the nature of "diplomatic traffic" in the 1980's? Voice communication and fax probably. In both cases, encryption/scrambling would have been provided by a black-box either standalone or attached to existing handsets or fax machines. It wouldn't have been possible to add an extra layer of security through software, which is the point I was making.
 

jmcc

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Sure, but what do you think was the nature of "diplomatic traffic" in the 1980's? Voice communication and fax probably. In both cases, encryption/scrambling would have been provided by a black-box either standalone or attached to existing handsets or fax machines. It wouldn't have been possible to add an extra layer of security through software, which is the point I was making.
Scrambling and encryption have different meanings. (Scrambling generally means a reordering of the data. Encryption can involve subsitution or other processes. Some largely analogue voice scramblers available to the public tended to slice the audio spectrum and reorder it on a pseudo-random basis. Some of the simpler designs just rotated the audio spectrum. Digital systems used to digitise the audio and encrypt it.) The diplomatic traffic in the 1980s was largely text based hence the references to diplomatic cables. These previously used to be sent as telex messages or as telegrams. Faxes could be intercepted and compromised but they were also somewhat easier to encrypt because of the process of scanning the document.
 

CatullusV

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Sure, but what do you think was the nature of "diplomatic traffic" in the 1980's? Voice communication and fax probably. In both cases, encryption/scrambling would have been provided by a black-box either standalone or attached to existing handsets or fax machines. It wouldn't have been possible to add an extra layer of security through software, which is the point I was making.
The government departments were early exploiters of tech and had PDPs running All-in-One in some offices by '81. That product included e-mail as standard. For a department such as the DFA, secrecy is all. Add Finance and Justice to them.
 


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