Taking Encryption Protections to the Next Level
2017-07-19 Terry Gaul
It seems like every day we hear about damaging and costly cyberattacks resulting from pirated software, theft of digital Intellectual Property, stolen personal, financial and medical data, or malicious tampering of consumer IoT devices and connected industrial machine systems in the IIoT. What’s most alarming about these attacks is that many times hackers were able to exploit a vulnerability in the very protection mechanisms designed to secure them.
For centuries now, encryption schemes, from simple ciphers to complex symmetric and asymmetric cryptography, have been used as a formidable defense against hackers to protect data, communications, devices and systems. But just as encryption techniques have evolved and become more sophisticated, so have the abilities of cyber criminals to identify and attack vulnerabilities in code, cryptographic protocols or key management in even the most clever protection schemes. Encryption alone is not the end-all solution. For example, use of a weak algorithm for encryption and decryption may be insufficient to prevent a brute force attack. On the other hand, use of a strong encryption algorithm, but with an insecure implementation that may expose the decryption key, can render the application vulnerable to attack.
The fact is that there is no 100% secure solution in software protection. That’s why companies like Wibu-Systems are dedicated to the continuing development of novel technology-driven security solutions – staying steps ahead of the would-be hackers. Often times it is a collaboration that results in a breakthrough technology, as is the case of Wibu-Systems’ Blurry Box encryption that was developed in conjunction with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the research center FZI. Blurry Box encryption technology was recently proven unbreakable in a global hacking contest.
Blurry Box is built upon the axiom known as Kerckhoffs’ Principle that states that the strength of the encryption system should depend upon the key being used, not the secrecy of the system. This approach is contrary to the often used obfuscation approach, which is otherwise known as “security by obscurity”. Blurry Box cryptography offers software protection that is completely based on publicly available methods. The basic principle of Blurry Box cryptography is the use of one or more secure keys in a dongle and the fact that software is typically complex. Blurry Box cryptography uses seven published methods that greatly increase the complexity and time required for an attack to be successful.
As described in a recent article by Silicon Trust, Blurry Box splits each function block into several variants, which return the correct output of the original unencrypted function only for a specific input set. A wrapper function maps these inputs to the variants, which are encrypted with separate keys stored on a dongle. When the software is executed, the system only decrypts those variants that match the given input. Hackers will only ever see that part of the code that matches the previous input.
In traditional encryption, hackers could work their way through the function blocks in what is called a “copy-and-paste” attack. However, even if a hacker captures individual variants, the protected program is so complex that no hacker can derive additional variants from a specific subset that may become known to him. In essence, Blurry Box does not depend on making copy-and- paste attacks on individual variants impossible, but on making the attack strategy as a whole unfeasible.
The bottom line is that it would be easier and less expensive for a would-be attacker to develop similar software from scratch vs. attempting to crack an application protected by Blurry Box encryption.
Blurry Box can be employed to protect any software however it is deployed. In today’s smart factories, for example, Blurry Box can provide dramatic benefits, particularly in protecting sensitive information such as the technology or configuration data used in manufacturing processes. This invaluable data needs to be safeguarded against know-how theft, counterfeiting, and tampering. Applying Kerckhoffs’ Principle provides encryption methods associated with hardware anchors of trust to ensure IP confidentiality and the integrity and authenticity of digital signatures. You can read more technical details about Blurry Box, including use cases, in an article, Blurry Box Encryption Scheme and Why It Matters to Industrial IoT, published in the Industrial Internet Consortium’s Journal of Innovation.
You can also watch a brief animated description of Blurry Box and how it is integrated into Wibu-Systems’ CodeMeter Protection Suite.
Vice President Sales USA
Terry Gaul is a sales and business development professional with extensive experience in the software and technology sectors. He has been involved with software protection and licensing technologies for more than 20 years and currently serves as Vice President of Sales at Wibu-Systems USA. When he is not helping customers with software licensing, Terry typically can be found coaching his daughters' soccer teams or camping with his family on the Maine coast.