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Securing encrypted communication



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Vasile, Diana-Alexandra 


Secure messaging has led to the mass adoption of strong security principles such as end-to-end encryption and perfect forward secrecy, which had previously failed to gain traction. While this marks tremendous progress in the effort to enhance the security of communication, there are still many open challenges. This dissertation looks at two open problems: providing key transparency in secure messaging apps in an attempt to detect targeted wiretaps, and securing the initial contact for journalists.

We begin by formalising the different combinations of key-to-name bindings seen in popular secure messaging apps into key-name-graphs, which we then use to verify that the key server provides the same snapshot of a key-name-graph for a user to all his friends. This approach is proposed as a baseline gossip protocol between friends who physically co-locate, however, when coupled with some enhancements, it has broader applicability to both different underlying network technologies and to expanding verification beyond the friendship connection. We analyse the deployability of the baseline gossip protocol using secondary data from two datasets: Wi-Fi usage and call-detail records. We also implement the protocol as a discrete event simulator and use it to perform model checking to analyse the protocol's security.

Secure messaging is not enough for everyone, though. There are certain cases in which further enhancements such as anonymity and metadata privacy are needed to protect those communicating. As such, we analysed the options available to journalists to communicate with sources who may later become whistleblowers. Through the insights from two workshops organised with large British news organisations we show that the options available to journalists are inadequate. We identify several open problems, such as low-latency secure and anonymous communication and secure collaboration. We focus our efforts on initial contact, a problem that appeared during the workshop to have a significant detrimental effect on the security of sources. We discovered that often sources do not place significant emphasis on secure communication from the start, and retrospectively applying security is non-trivial by the time they are ready to share sensitive information. We thus propose a new and secure initial contact system, called CoverDrop, which is integrated as a secure library directly inside newsreader apps.





Beresford, Alastair R


encrypted communication, end-to-end encryption, metadata privacy, transparency


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
EPSRC (1453426)