Re: [Shutup] [ietf-smtp] Compressing SMTP streams

Aaron Zauner <azet@azet.org> Sat, 06 February 2016 11:40 UTC

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From: Aaron Zauner <azet@azet.org>
In-Reply-To: <20160206113226.GA21279@lapsedordinary.net>
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 2016 12:40:21 +0100
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References: <20160129180713.51570.qmail@ary.lan> <E89BE40D-6635-4581-B2B7-13F2D5190CB2@azet.org> <20160206113226.GA21279@lapsedordinary.net>
To: Martijn Grooten <martijn@lapsedordinary.net>
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Cc: shutup@ietf.org, ietf-smtp@ietf.org
Subject: Re: [Shutup] [ietf-smtp] Compressing SMTP streams
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> On 06 Feb 2016, at 12:32, Martijn Grooten <martijn@lapsedordinary.net> wrote:
> 
> On Sat, Feb 06, 2016 at 11:15:54AM +0100, Aaron Zauner wrote:
>> Do you guys have any numbers on this? I.e. what the advantage and
>> compression ratio for your average mail traffic will be? I suspect
>> compression is helpful in SMTP but it may also introduce
>> vulnerabilities in combination with TLS. CRIME wasn't the only attack
>> on compression, there's also been application layer specific attacks
>> BREACH for example (breachattack.com). A team is currently working on
>> improving these attacks in application layer protocols, circumvent
>> counter-measures in clients et cetera (from a talk at
>> RealWorldCrypto2016 -
>> https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bzm_4XrWnl5zMkJJdHo0Rml4bXM/view?usp=sharing).
> 
> I think it's fair to say (as others have done already) that none of
> these attacks work against SMTP as they all require the attacker to
> force the client to make specific requests to the target.

Well, yes. You just can't do JavaScript via SMTP (yet) :)

> But these attacks also show that compression and encryption don't go
> well together. And crypto is hard and provides plenty of opportunities
> to mess up. For that reason, I would suggest following TLS 1.3 and not
> combine the two, as it would teach people bad habits.

There aren't that many people looking into this, with renewed research efforts I fear that these attacks may improve significantly. The authors of mentioned work on improving these attacks explicitly mentioned other application layer protocols than HTTP(S) in the Q/A after the talk. They will also be presenting new attacks at upcoming conferences. As I see it - adding compression might reduce traffic load for some providers but at the same time may introduce new vulnerabilities in the future to already poorly-secured protocols like SMTP.

Aaron