Thoughts of the day

I read in the news that the FBI (with a little help from his friends) managed to hack an iPhone which might contain valuable information for tracking some bloody devils. “We no longer need Apple assistance” for breaking the safety locks declared the Department Of Justice. This is the end point of a legal dispute between authorities and Apple. However, I agree with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) when he declares that “This lawsuit may be over, but the Constitutional and privacy questions it raised are not”

Few thoughts crossed my mind about this controversy on privacy, like “Hacking is good for your safety” might be the new moto from the FBI, after blaming hacker for breaking safety gates. What is bad today will be good tomorrow, who knows ? But above all is something more general, philosophical and technical. From my early reading on cryptology, deciphering and related techniques, I learned that secrets are all to be broken one day or an other. It is just a matter of time, ressources and often luck (many hints were found in waste baskets…).

Twenty years from now, I worked on a data analysis software which required access to data encoded into binary data files from various instrument makers. Companies like HP were publishing their file formats, some others would agree to help under certain conditions (e.g. after signing a NDA). However, some other ones said “No”, “Never”. I explained that ultimately the file were containing my own data and that I could not understand why I could not get access to them using my preferred tool. “No way”. I took it for a challenge and one week later, after struggling hard, applying all my deciphering science, I broke the file format. And then ? What would I do ? Publish the file format on the web ? Sell it ? Advertise on the poor protection applied to data managed by this company ? This story is all about: never challenge someone who really needs an information as probably all systems can be reverse engineered.

To illustrate this, I will disclose today the password used for decades on HP 9825 computers for unlocking software. The funny thing about this password is that it is a mix of few digits and a (real) dirty word which was far beyond expectations of hackers at the time HP products had this very severe olive green, almost military alike, colors. And this dirty word was …

Credits: iPhone from pcworld.com, HP9825 picture from www.hpmuseum.org

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