Our Mission: the comprehensive cross-domain R&D of viable, very high priority commercial ICT innovations, that together will also deliver Our Vision: A global-scale universally trustworthy Cyber Safety and Security Ecosystem.
“Business now relies on information infrastructures that are interlinked and interdependent… The way in which these hidden interdependencies pervade our everyday lives is staggering and, in some cases, may go unchecked for many years until an incident occurs that revels the true nature of the interdependences' impact.”
The British Government’s Technology Strategy Board, 2008
"But conventional security is not enough. The complexity of today's operational environment means organisations must embrace a level of business resilience that is normally associated with the protection of critical national infrastructure."
Detica, a BAE Systems Company
“It's not good enough to have a system where everyone (using the system) must be trusted, it must also be made robust against insiders!”
"History has taught us: never underestimate the amount of money, time, and effort someone will expend to thwart a security system. It's always better to assume the worst. Assume your adversaries are better than they are. Assume science and technology will soon be able to do things they cannot yet. Give yourself a margin for error. Give yourself more security than you need today. When the unexpected happens, you'll be glad you did."
Bruce Schneier, "Why Cryptography Is Harder Than It Looks", 1997
“In the next five years we will counter many 'hacker' attacks but we will not be safe from Nation States and other large entities”
"One often hears recommendations for key-sizes of public-key cryptosystems needed to obtain security for 30 years and even 50 years. Anyone wanting a real security of this magnitude should probably take the construction of the quantum computer into consideration."
ECRYPT, “D.PROVI.3 – First Summary Report on Unconditionally Secure Protocols”, January 2005
"First and foremost, there is no proper excuse for continued use of a broken cryptographic primitive (MD5) when sufficiently strong alternatives are readily available, for example SHA-2. Secondly, there is no substitute for security awareness." ... "Advice from experts should be taken seriously and early in the process. In this case, MD5 should have been phased out soon after 2004."
Alexander Sotirov, Marc Stevens, Jacob Appelbaum, Arjen Lenstra, David Molnar, Dag Arne Osvik, Benne de Wegerr, "MD5 considered harmful today - Creating a rogue CA certificate", December 2008
"Security and dependability issues typically go along with the life cycle of a technology. The trend to first deploy a technology and later fix its problems – typically driven by economic motives – is gradually making way for security by design, resulting in improved security at the beginning of the life cycle."SecurIST, “D3.3 – ICT Security & Dependability Research beyond 2010: Final Strategy”, January 2007
"Given their power to intercept and disrupt secret communications, it is not surprising that quantum computers have the attention of various U.S. government agencies. The National Security Agency, which supports research in quantum computing, candidly declares that given its interest in keeping U.S. government communications secure, it is loath to see quantum computers built. On the other hand, if they can be built, then it wants to have the first one.”
Prof Seth Lloyd of MIT, MIT Review 2008
“Never underestimate the attention, risk, money and time that an opponent will put into reading traffic.”
“Assurance is best addressed during the initial design and engineering of security systems, NOT as an after market patch. The earlier you include a security architect in your design process, the greater the likely hood of a successful and robust design. As the quip goes, he who gets to the (module) interface first wins.”
Brian Snow, Former Technical Director of the US National Security Agency (NSA), "We need Assurance", AusCERT 2008
“Given today’s common hardware and software architectural paradigms, operating systems security is a major primitive for secure systems – you will not succeed without it. This area is so important that it needs all the emphasis it can get. It is the current ‘black hole’ of security.”
“The software security industry today is at about the same stage as the auto industry was in 1930" ... "it looks fast, goes nice but in an accident you die.” ... "The major shortfall is absence of assurance (or safety) mechanisms in software. If my car crashed as often as my computer does, I would be dead by now."
"Many applications stay in use for much longer than anticipated, but during the extended lifetime they will be functioning in an environment for which they have not been designed, resulting in completely new vulnerabilities and risks."SecurIST, “D3.3 – ICT Security & Dependability Research beyond 2010: Final Strategy”, January 2007
“We are a cyber nation. The U.S. information infrastructure--including telecommunications and computer networks and systems and the data that reside on them--is critical to virtually every aspect of modern life. This information infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, disruption, and destruction by a growing array of adversaries.”
The National Coordination Office (NCO) for Networking Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD), Federal Register: December 30, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 250).
“So the threat to cryptography is well understood due to work by Peter Shor and others. A symmetric algorithm like AES or others standard crypto processes is cut (of) key-size in half, which is a dramatic reduction. ... For key management purposes, against the RSA and the Diffie-Hellman and stuff, they flat-line under a quantum computer.”
Brian Snow, Former Technical Director of the US National Security Agency (NSA), Public Key Cryptography 30th Anniversary Conference, Dec 2006
"There is a good chance that large quantum computers can be built within the next 20 years. This would be a nightmare for IT security if there are no fully developed, implemented, and standardized post-quantum signature schemes."
Prof. Johannes Buchmann, et al, “Post-Quantum Signatures”, Oct 2004, Technische Universität Darmstadt
“Briefly and simply, assurance work makes a user or a creditor more confident that the system works as intended without flaws, without surprises, even in the presence of malice.” … “The major shortfall is absence of assurance or safety mechanisms in software. If my car crashed as often as my computer does, I’d be dead by now.”
Brian Snow, Former Technical Director of the US National Security Agency (NSA), "We need Assurance", AusCERT 2008
"The security of the digital world has become a fundamental stake for the citizen with respect to his individual freedom ..., for the company with respect to the protection of its computerized industrial assets, ..., and for the state with respect to the reliability of operations and the reduction in the vulnerability of large and critical infrastructures ...”SecurIST, “D3.3 – ICT Security & Dependability Research beyond 2010: Final Strategy”, January 2007
"Many crypto-systems considered robust have been broken after a certain amount of time (between 10-20 years). ... We need to build crypto-systems that offer long term security, for example for protecting financial and medical information (medical information such as our DNA may be sensitive information with impact on our children, our grandchildren and beyond)."SecurIST, “D3.3 – ICT Security & Dependability Research beyond 2010: Final Strategy”, January 2007
Security, SECURITY risks AND Security REQUIREMENTS home
In this section of the website we briefly discuss security, security risks and security requirements in a way that should be accessible to a wide potentially non-technical audience. We quickly build out many of the key points that underlay Brian Snow’s statement that "the state of the security industry today is like a car in the 1930’s… it looks good, goes fast, but in an accident you die!". We broaden the discussion to include information about the latest security risks against modern cryptographic components that are the foundation of almost every security system.
A few minutes reviewing this section may help provide context to the needs and challenges of today's modern security environment. Each entry aims to be small and self-contained allowing the entries to be read in any order. At the end of some entries there is a link to a more detailed version of the article available which is published in the facts and frequently asked questions section of this website.
The four great enablers of communication
The current trend is to move away from the original telephone network and to move to carrying Voice over the Internet. Unfortunately most 'standards based' VoIP systems do not implement any end-to-end security.
As most Internet users are acutely aware the Internet does not protect the privacy of, or assert the authenticity of user information. Secure online shopping and e-banking require the use of a 'wrapper' protocol (SSL/TLS) to encrypt user information before that encrypted information is then transported over the original insecure network. The original network services used to manage the Internet were not designed using cryptographic techniques. These insecure protocols and services than expanded to millions of machines managed by a vast number of independent groups. Incremental security improvements have been in an incoherent and uncoordinated fashion. As a result the Internet system as a whole is inherently vulnerable to a wide range of attacks.
The next great enabler of communications
It is unrealistic to expect that all existing communications devices that have been deployed and are currently active in the field can be retroactively upgraded to employ information assurance operations. A vast number of these devices have no security operations. Those that do currently offer security operations use cryptographic operations that are at risk of catastrophic failure. It is not economically viable to upgrade or replace all of these devices before their natural life-cycle is over. An alternative solution must be found that secures the past and that can also secure the future in a coherent integrated fashion.
Over the last 10 years Synaptic has been working on a new secure "universal network carrier" (UNC) with Network of the Future (NoF) capabilities called Janelda. A UNC is a new type of network envisioned by Synaptic Laboratories Limited where the communications protocol is explicitly designed from the onset to act as a secure host and performance enhancer for isochronous, cell and packet based network communications. This enables the UNC to natively host all communications protocols such as TCP/IP, ISDN, ATM, Ethernet, and so on with high quality service level agreements. This also enables a deployed UNC to host entirely new protocols that have not yet been designed, protocols that may have additional smarts or specific binary format requirements. Janelda is designed to support the European NoF, the European secure ambient intelligence (AmI) and the American secure Internet of Things visions.
All of Synaptic technologies fall under a grand unifying vision of a new secure communications ecosystem.
To cost effectively upgrade our land-based communication systems to support 10+ gigabit/s bidirectional traffic to each home the Janelda project was designed to perform all communications operations such as packet switching, packet routing, congestion control, and cryptography cost effectively in standard semiconductor processes.
To satisfy this requirement for a eco friendly and cost effective solution Synaptic Laboratories designed the VEST family of ciphers. These ciphers are 3 to 6 times more power efficient than the US NIST standards based solutions AES-256 and AES-GCM respectively when implemented in hardware. They offer increased range of function and higher security margins. Unlike the AES cipher which was optimised for execution in software the VEST family of ciphers are exclusively designed to support chip-to-chip and packet based communications protocol in semiconductor devices. Hardware ciphers are capable of achieving security in less power than ciphers designed for software because hardware devices allow you to express a wide range of complex functions that cannot be efficiently expressed in general purpose software instruction sets that are limited to simple Boolean and arithmetic operations.
The cryptographic community has recently begun to focus its attention on the design of cryptographic operations that are efficient in the worlds smallest devices. Industry cryptographic competitions were previously organised on the basis that it simply was not viable to deliver high level of security on these devices. Unfortunately because of the quantum computing risk the minimum level of security for data privacy that must be embedded in a device must be as high as AES-192.
Synaptic has carefully studied the hardware device profile of smart cards and the emerging ambient intelligent sensor market. Based on this information Synaptic has designed an efficient method for retroactively upgrading the software in these devices so that they can achieve a 100 year security rating. It does this by taking advantage of the inbuilt micro processor and the hardware US NIST DES cipher implemented in an extremely large number of these devices. This software upgrade to the DES cipher is called PQSDES.
A mantra of the well known security expert Bruce Schneier, founder of BT Counterpane and a pioneer in the development of Managed Security Monitoring, is that "security is a process, not a product". Security cannot be achieved by just adding strong cryptographic algorithms to a computer system. Implementations of the cryptographic algorithms reside within complex computer systems. These complex computer systems then interact with even more complex human dynamics. A failure anywhere in this ecosystem can seriously compromise security. To learn more about security as a process read Schneier's article here.
Taking the above into account, modern cryptographic security systems still rely on the security of the choice and configuration of cryptographic algorithms. If a central cryptographic component of the crypto system fails, security may be entirely lost. Synaptic has designed our security ecosystem to strengthen the security process, not just the cryptographic components. Click here to read more about risks facing mainstream cryptographic systems today.
According to the British Government Technology Strategy Board, "the current way which organisations approach security can be recognised as an underlying market failure which consists of fire fighting security problems, silo'd implementation of technologies, uncontrolled application development practices and a failure to address systemic problems." (read full quote)
Brian Snow summarises the situation by saying "the software security industry today is at about the same stage as the auto industry was in 1930" ... "it looks fast, goes nice but in an accident you die.” (read full quote)
Synaptic are working on a unified security ecosystem solution that addresses a wide range of previously specialised domains in a singular framework. Our objective is to specific and implement this ecosystem using high assurance techniques.
Achieving long term security
According to Brian Snow, operating system security is the current ‘black hole’ of security. In environments where it is not possible to secure the desktop operating system smart cards can provide islands of security in a sea of insecurity. Moving sensitive cryptographic operations such as identity authentication and secure key exchanges from the desktop to the smart card providers a higher level of long term security.
In high security systems it is often desirable to use a cryptographic operation that is in some way different from what other people are using. The choice of a different algorithm, or a secure variation of a fixed algorithm enables risk to be managed through diversification.
Synaptic offers a range of data privacy and integrity operations that offer a diversification technique called family keying. This allows any organisation to create a proprietary variation of the cipher in a strictly defined way that does not weaken the security of the system. The family key is designed the change the cipher in a way different to the standard symmetric key. The family key does not need to be secret. Synaptic Labs' VEST cipher offers a range of family keying techniques that allow variations of the cipher to be built for a wide range of application scenarios (such as unique cipher per chip for verifying the authenticity of a device, or for increasing the cost of third parties cloning their authentication devices). Synaptic Labs' PQSDES cipher offers family keying that is optimised to protect against subtle cross-protocol attacks. (Read longer answer to this question)
Modern security risks: General
Security has often been described as a chain of interconnected links working together. The well-known industry saying goes that the security of the system is only as strong as the weakest link. These weakest links are single points of potential failure that can result in the security of the entire system failing.
This line of thinking is useful but has often been used to justify the use of less-than-ideal components and weak constructions on the pessimistic basis that the wider system in which it is implemented is inherently insecure. The limitation in this line of reasoning is that there is no longer any strong point on which we can manage the points that are at risk. If our goal is to strive for risk management and the design of high assurance systems than we must design and implement each part in the system in a robust manner. Having comprehensively built these strong foundations we can then appropriately shift our focus to addressing the complex dynamics of large electronic systems and human interaction.
Synaptic is designing a unified ecosystem which addresses the long-term security risks and the point-based problem solving to create a strong foundation on which the perpetual wheels of the security process can stand on. Synaptic Labs' Group, Enterprise, and Universal key exchanges are exemplary protocols that manage the complex human trust relationships to mitigate against the risk of single point of trust failure. The Synaptic key exchange protocols also demonstrate the ability to layer two fundamentally different key exchange techniques in a manner that provides practical increase in security under some realistic attack scenarios. (read longer answer to this article)
Modern security risks: Low quality software and systems
Modern security risks: Quantum computers
Prof. Johannes Buchmann, et al, “Post-Quantum Signatures”, Oct 2004, Technische Universität Darmstadt
There exists intense scientific debate and speculation as to if large quantum computers can be built, what techniques might work best, and when they may arrive. The debate over quantum computers exemplifies the scientific process at its best.
Within this context the risks posed by the arrival of code breaking quantum computers is widely acknowledged as a serious possibility. As a result cryptographic systems must be designed to comprehensively address this threat. Learn more about what some experts have to say about the threat.
The design of the first large code-breaking quantum computer is currently an open problem (as far as we know in the open community). One of the co-inventors of the first quantum computer advises that code-breaking quantum computers may arrive after a decade (2008). Learn more about what some experts have to say about the timeline.
According to an extensive survey performed by the US ARDA in 2004 there are over 155 different research groups trying to build quantum computers. The number of projects in 2008 is anticipated to be larger.
The cryptographic term "post quantum secure" or more formally "candidate post quantum secure" indicates that is it conjectured that the algorithm or system will remain cryptographically secure after the arrival of quantum computers. This implies that the system must be secure against current classical computing attacks and attacks performed by or with the assistance of quantum computers.
Most computer security systems in use today (2008-2009) rely on cryptographic components that are conjectured to be insecure against large code breaking quantum computers. Click here to read more about the vulnerable systems. Click here to read about Synaptic Labs' post quantum secure ecosystem.
Quantum key distribution (QKD) utilizes quantum effects to transmit information between two points. In principle, the sender and receiver party can detect if a bit of information has been recorded by a third party in transit. This is a type of information-theoretically secure system. However QKD has several physical limitations that limit the distance between the sender and receiver, and the number of parties that can exchange a key over a single link. QKD is also very expensive, it is currently USD $100,000 (2008) for the hardware endpoints per fiber connection. Implementations of QKD have also had a series of security failures.
QKD is a immature technology that is not suitable for securing general Internet communications. For a cost effective alternative see Synaptic Labs' Group Key Exchange technology. (Read longer answer to this question)
Modern security risks: Side channel attacks
Protecting information is difficult. An intelligent attacker will survey the range of attacks against a system and rank them according to cost, effort and effectiveness. Sometimes this might mean a passive attack against a weak cryptographic primitive or an active attack against a poor implementation. A broad class of attacks are based on trying to monitor information that is leaked by a device when it is performing security operations. These are called 'side channel' attacks.
Home and corporate desktop computers are at extreme risk of side-channel attacks in the form of back-doors in operating systems (as a result of flaws in the software), installation of trojans and key-stroke monitoring software, and the like. Firewalls and anti-virus are not sufficient to provide long periods of security with high assurance. As Brian Snow says, "operating systems are the current black hole of security". (see full quote)
A method of increasing security in desktop environments is to use smart cards. See the Microsoft agenda and Brian Snow's opinion. Smart cards are tiny computers that have been explicitly designed to provide security against a very wide range of passive and physically invasive side channel attacks. Synaptic has specifically designed it's security ecosystem around smart cards, using them as a solid basis for building high assurance systems.
Modern security risks: Attacks against semiconductors devices
Chip piracy of various types is a problem of increasing concern. Chip piracy is not limited to physical chips but can include third party IP modules licensed for inclusion in a chip design and associated firmware. In addition to chip piracy, low-cost reverse engineering of chips can also pose significant security problems for high-tech organisations. There exist a range of proposals for detecting or deterring chip over manufacture. Synaptic have a broader proposal that address attacks before, during and after manufacture for chip designs and associated software. Click here to read more.
In many security applications, smart cards and other hardware tokens are used to provide conditional access to information. Typically the cryptographic challenges implemented in the smart card are implemented in software or with software efficient cryptographic components. If the security software on the smart card can be extracted then it becomes possible to emulate the smart card on a standard desktop computer and fake an authentication device. Synaptic Labs' VEST family of hardware ciphers are extremely efficient in hardware and equally inefficient in software. Cryptographic challenge-responses implemented using VEST's hash function when implemented on a smart card can be emulated at-speed on a desktop. The difference between hardware and software execution can be used to remotely detect the difference.
Upgrading systems to harden them
The of code breaking quantum computers presents several difficult problems to risk managers. On one extreme it is possible that the problem of increasing the size and performance of computers might prove an intractably hard engineering problem. On the other extreme code-breaking quantum computers may already exist in well funded closed security communities.
Unfortunately if code-breaking quantum computers are built the security of all our classical systems Learn more about the factscatastrophically fails. This implies that all encrypted data previously transmitted over the Internet could be at risk of later decryption. It is widely acknowledged that Internet Service Providers and Governments monitor regional and international network communications. There is no technical barrier to organisations recording potentially sensitive encrypted information for later decryption on demand. The performance of code-breaking quantum computer is anticipated to break the security on these systems roughly at roughly the same speed it would take a classical computer to legitimately decrypt them. If they do arrive, it is an abrupt and catastrophic failure similar to those experienced by the Oyster smart card devices, but experienced on a global scale.
Individually and collectively a decision needs to be made as to what action should be taken, by whom and at what time in consideration of the potential ramifications and negative effects that are may occur regional and international stability.
The answer to this question depends on many factors related to the system in question. At one extreme small groups of individuals or computers may be able to rapidly achieve a higher level of security using systems based around the Synaptic Group Key Exchange or Enterprise Key Exchange technologies. Synaptic is planning the deployment of a instant messaging system that should enable basic communications (voice, file transfer, etc) to be established rapidly between small groups.
At the other extreme the communications protocols between devices, readers, and back-office servers may need to be significantly revised to achieve the necessary level of security in a manner that is cost-effective over the life-cycle of the system. For example, EMVco is considering making a protocol change to the Eurocard-MasterCard-Visa banking system. EMVco advises that "it will take 12 to 15 years for the infrastructure to be migrated in support of the new technique, which is why we are now conducting a review of various options.". Synaptic Labs' security ecosystem is designed explicitly to address secure RFID credit and debit card transactions in a way that can be cost effectively deployed on current smart cards, achieves 100 year security and maintains the privacy of card holders from third parties. (Read longer answer to this question)
The cost in upgrading systems depends on the type of system and nature of the upgrade.
The most rapid risk management strategy for upgrading commercial business systems from a possible Learn more about the facts may involve a three stage onion-ring process where inter-office communications is protected, followed by inter-computer communications, and then low-level software is adjusted. In this model the security risks from attacks outside the network against the widest number of devices are addressed first, and then improved security is progressively implemented towards the source of the sensitive material. Synaptic is designing a range of products based on our technologies that would support this rapid-type of risk management strategy to be deployed.
While a wrap-around solution is a highly desirable short-term risk management strategy for some applications it is not a universal solution available to all applications or devices. Synaptic Labs' primary focus is the design of a universal ecosystem, a secure communications framework, that has been designed from the onset to address the combination of unique and partially overlapping security requirements of RFID, ePassports, through to business to business e-commerce in one interoperable system. The creation of a secure low-level communications environment that comprehensively addresses the common security risks found in an application domain helps prevent re-inventing the wheel on a point-basis and allows security developers to focus on solving the remaining complex application specific problems that relate to higher level information flow and access control.
We anticipate that the primary cost in retrofitting production systems with a new layer of security protection, and the creation of new secure applications will be in the human costs and not in the licensing of security technologies.
It is the Microsoft agenda to increase corporate operating system security by deploying the security in smart cards. As part of this strategy they have designed their own smart card operating system based on the .NET platform with Gemalto. All Microsoft employees must have a smart card.
Smart cards increase operating system security by providing a small but secure computer environment for performing cryptographic operations such as user authentication and signing documents.
Smart cards have been optimised for performing a limited set of cryptographic operations. Unfortunately many of the algorithms they have been optimised to run are at risk of catastrophic security failure. This requires a new cryptographic landscape.
Synaptic offers a range of next generation cryptographic operations that avoid the need to retool the smart card industry. For example Synaptic Labs' PQSDES cipher is designed specifically for implementing Lamport-Diffie-Merkle digital signatures entirely in smart cards to achieve the necessary level of security and efficiency. Synaptic also offers alternative technologies for implementing digital signatures on smart cards that have various performance / security / efficiency trade offs.