In May, WhatsApp made some controversial modifications to its phrases of service, leaving WhatsApp customers with a alternative: conform to the phrases, or be pressured to depart.
Similarly, journalists and activists who’re apprehensive about their messages being intercepted or spied on—particularly in international locations with weaker free speech ensures—are confronted with a alternative relating to how the app handles their messages: conform to the phrases, or go away the app.
“Right now, messaging app companies are in charge of users, when really it should be the other way around,” says Matthew Weidner, a Ph.D. scholar suggested by CyLab’s Heather Miller in Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Science Department. “Users should have the freedom to choose how their messages are handled.”
That’s why Weidner argues that the providers that group messaging apps use—similar to end-to-end encryption or group administration—must be de-centralized. That is, customers should not be tethered to a single firm’s server, which leaves them on the mercy of the corporate.
In a brand new research offered eventually week’s ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, Weidner outlined a brand new safety protocol that might carry this concept of decentralization to fruition.
“The idea of our work is to give users the same security, but support a more flexible network, thus giving more power to users,” says Weidner, who served because the research’s lead creator. “If your message thread is routed through one server and the company raises the prices or shuts down, you could switch to another server seamlessly.”
Core to Weidner’s work is what’s referred to as steady group key settlement (CGKA)—a previously-developed safety protocol that permits a bunch of people to affix and go away a bunch message thread after it has been created and never must depend on a message group supervisor. CGKA additionally prevents the necessity to fear about when or how lengthy members of the group are on-line. Typically, group messages are routed by means of a single server that applies CGKA, however Weidner and his colleagues aimed to check the extent to which safe messaging was attainable for extra versatile, decentralized networks. Thus, they outline decentralized CGKA, or DCGKA.
“What makes our paper different is we work in a decentralized setting, where we don’t necessarily assume there’s a central server to route messages and help out maintaining the group,” Weidner says. “Instead, users can send messages to each other however they’d like.”
A decentralized mannequin introduces a number of challenges, Weidner says. Messages may very well be delayed or delivered in an inconsistent order, and with no central authority, there is no such thing as a single supply of fact. To clear up this, messages are fastidiously designed in order that they have the identical impact it doesn’t matter what order they’re obtained in. That method, even when one thing uncommon however uncommon occurs—like two customers eradicating one another from the group concurrently—the entire group finally sees the identical final result.
How, then, does this play into the lives of journalists or activists making an attempt to securely talk in international locations with weaker free speech rights? Weidner says DCGKA gives an answer.
“If the journalists are using a central server run by a company to communicate, but it gets blocked or shut down, they could switch to a ‘self-hosted’ server that’s physically in one of their homes,” Weidner says. “If that’s blocked too, or if the whole Internet is shut down, they could switch to using a mesh network in which nearby devices connect over Bluetooth. Even if some messages get delayed or reordered during the transition, DCGKA will continue working and providing security.”
Matthew Weidner et al, Key Agreement for Decentralized Secure Group Messaging with Strong Security Guarantees, Proceedings of the 2021 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (2021). DOI: 10.1145/3460120.3484542
Carnegie Mellon University
Beyond one server: Decentralizing safe group messaging (2021, November 24)
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