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Data Security Software Design Considerations

ArticSoft Open PGP encryption and digital signature security software has been designed with the following in mind:

  • Ease of use
  • Interoperability
  • Integration
  • Scalability
  • Cost



Summary

It has long been recognized that there is a trade-off between ease of use and security.  What is not always recognized is that pursuing ease of use may also lead to both a lack of choice of solutions and increased weaknesses in security software systems.

ArticSoft have carefully designed Open PGP security software products that are easy to use, and that do not force customers to purchase other supplier's specific products or solutions before they work.  Nor do they require customers to become security and IT integration experts.  In some specific instances tight integration with other applications has been avoided to ensure that a weakness in that application cannot compromise the security provided by ArticSoft.


Introduction to Security Software

IT security professionals have always faced the problem that making computers secure will always require help and assistance from the user.   This may be as little as logging on (making sure that only authorized users have access), or may require them to use smart cards or tokens when approving bank transfers.

A totally secure system is very hard to use, and a totally easy to use system has almost no security.

Security software is only ever as strong as its weakest link.  As a result, where security software has been designed to be very easy to use, or has not been designed to operate in a highly secure manner, they are  usually the targets of attack.   That is simply because the attacker wants the simplest route in, not the most difficult.

These balances and contradictions provide the security software designer with a challenge - producing security software that is easy to use whilst delivering the strongest possible security software  for the customer.


Security Software Integration

Tight integration with other applications presents several distinct problems in security terms.   First there is the problem about which other applications suppliers are also trying to achieve tight integration with the target product (Microsoft Word, perhaps).   How have they approached that, where are they linked in, are there any extra libraries in common, are different versions in use (of either the target product, or the other suppliers or both) and what are the implications.  How does the removal process work.  What happens when updates are released and are there any conflicts.

Second are the series of problems over the relationship between the target product and the security software.  Is the target product strong enough to resist the types of attack that could compromise the security software.  Can the information that the security software  is going to protect be compromised before it is protected.  Can the security software be persuaded to act incorrectly if the target product is attacked.  Can the security software be prevented from working.  Can the user be persuaded that the security software is working when in fact it is not.

These problems create difficulties for administrators, users and suppliers.  ArticSoft have avoided these by not enforcing tight integration before use.  As a result, implementation and, if necessary, removal are trivial.  Altering, updating, adding and removing other applications is seamless, and does not reduce your security.

Also, you (and anyone you need to send secure information to) are not forced to work with specific applications (e-mail systems, document editors, particular file types, instant messaging services and so on). If your recipients only need to receive information from you, and don't need to send anything then ArticSoft provide free security software (readers) so that your information cannot be hacked no matter where it is kept or how it is transferred.


Security Software & ease of use

Users, and not administrators, are the people who use computers.  Once a user has decided that some information needs protecting (something they do perfectly well when using the ordinary mail) they only need to know who it is going to, and, maybe, what signature they are going to use.

The idea of having multiple signatures does happen in the paper world, and is normally managed by adding a formal title (Doctor, VP, Sheriff, Director and so on) after or below the handwritten name.  Digital signatures don't have that capability, which is why you might need more than one of them in any system.

The only other thing a user wants to know is confirmation that all is well when a secure message is received (or checked at some later date).  That happens automatically on opening any ArticSoft protected information.

Many security software systems make a point of adding considerable complexity to these simple business requirements. ArticSoft have removed that complexity from simple user operations, whilst retaining the technical detail that an administrator would require (certificate details, audit details and so on) in the background just in case it is needed.  This helps insulate users from technical issues that are of no concern to them at all and avoids unnecessary confusion.

At the same time, users are able to perform complicated operations such as importing identities quickly and easily and can give the certificates that they receive their own identifiers so that they know who they're dealing with. Because that is what counts.


Interoperability

Interoperability is the key to successful security implementations.  Interoperability is critical for two reasons.  It is your only defence against proprietary security software solutions that lock you into one supplier and their business and cost model.   It also ensures that the security software actually works.

Everyone has experience of situations where lack of interoperability proves critical - car spare parts that don't align, light bulbs that don't fit, eMail that doesn't read properly.  But when you are looking for security, lack of interoperability means not being able to read what you receive - unless you also want to commit to implementing exactly the same security software the sender used, and whatever costs that comes with.

ArticSoft Open PGP security software products use the OpenPGP standard (RFC 2440) because it has stood the test of time and proved its worth, and is the most widely implemented standard for securing files throughout the world.   It has been reviewed in detail, and is highly respected.  It has been implemented successfully on all major computing platforms and there are many security software products available that work to that standard.  By basing our security software on the OpenPGP standard (the most widely implemented and only recognized file encryption standard in the world) you can communicate securely with any OpenPGP compliant product (PGP, GnuPGP, etc.) giving you full flexibility and future proof technology.


Scalability of Security Software

Many people believe that for any cryptography system to be acceptable it must be possible to immediately interoperate with thousands, if not tens of thousands of other people and to be instantly able to send them encrypted information that they can recognize and process.

This is a strange view when one considers how rarely we ever send anything by e-mail that is genuinely secret.  There are many fears that people do not protect computer information adequately, but that problems is better solved by education than trying to 'routinely encrypt'everything. In fact, routine encryption creates more administrative problems than it solves because you have to implement an immense system to solve a small problem.

For even the most security minded people there are only about 30 people (which might include a couple of well defined groups) who they would ever send anything genuinely secret to. And most of them are inside their company or family. So a system that scales to thousands (and more) is overkill.  Even if you have a group of people who have to share a secret the group can use a single group key without any loss of control or security. One thing that never happens is sending a secret to everybody - the idea is an oxymoron.

ArticSoft have designed an Open PGP security software system that allows you to use keys for individuals or for groups, and to manage short key-lists without any central overhead or complex administrative control.  This means very fast implementation, very fast uptake without any need to change anything in the way that systems and processes currently run.


Security Software & Cost

The cost of implementing a full-scale PKI service in any business is known to be large.   Working methods and practices have to be changed, the IT department has to take on new skills, software and systems and the timescale for the project is immense before there is any potential for gain.

The ArticSoft approach is to minimize the cost impact of gaining significant security for the occasions on which it is needed.   Point solutions can be implemented in hours rather than months.  Unlike VPN solutions (which offer some security benefits) they do not require complex administration, setup at both ends (dangerous if connecting to another enterprise rather than just managing your own staff) and continuing management if software changes, ArticSoft OpenPGP solutions require no changes to be made.

As a result, an ArticSoft security software solution is the cheapest and simplest means of achieving really secure information exchange.




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Data Security Design Considerations for ArticSoft OpenPGP security  software