A critical PGP flaw could expose your past emails

PSA PGP and S  MIME are broken and leaking encrypted emails – stop using them right now

Dubbing the series of flaws that make this attack possible as eFail, researchers said that some of these security vulnerabilities are a decade-old.

Some security experts said because EFAIL seems to affect specific email applications, it is an exaggeration to say that there is a flaw in the actual underlying encryption protocols.

European researchers have found that the popular PGP and S/MIME e-mail encryption standards are vulnerable to being hacked and they urge users to disable and uninstall them immediately.

"Disabling the presentation of incoming HTML emails in your email client will close the most prominent way of attacking EFAIL".

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Security researchers have discovered and warned against vulnerabilities in PGP/GPG and S/MIME email encryption standards that could be used by malicious actors. The idea is that attackers shouldn't be able to read your messages even if they intercept them or somehow gain access to your accounts.

While the requirement that attackers have access to previously sent e-mails is a an extremely high bar, the entire objective of both PGP and S/MIME is to protect users against this possibility. It is one of the most trusted encryption programs used for signing, encryption, and decryption of private texts and emails.

"It's a lot of steps for sure, and one that honestly is more hypothetical than is it is unsafe", Dave Kennedy, the chief executive at security company TrustedSec, said.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation -which researchers contacted to help them broadcast their message to a broader audience- has published tutorials on how to disable email encryption plugins.

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As for mitigations, those using HTML clients with these plug-ins have "currently no reliable fixes for the vulnerability", Schinzel tweeted. If some sources are to be believed, it could spell the end of email as a secure channel.

The attack works on past trails of messages; so, for example, if a regime has been stealthily collecting emails sent by suspected dissidents in hopes of someday decrypting them, EFAIL will allow a nation-state to force the person's email client to now decrypt them.

He argued it wasn't really a vulnerability in the OpenPGP system but rather in email programs that had been designed without appropriate safeguards.

However, Werner Koch, free software developer and author of the GNU Privacy Guard, posted information on Monday which claims the warnings from EFF are "pretty overblown".

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Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure, a cyber security firm, said: "This is bad because the people who use PGP use it for a reason, people don't use it for fun - people who use it have real secrets, like business secrets or confidential things". And because EFAIL relies on HTML-based emails, disabling HTML rendering is also advised for now.

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