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FBI baffled over Brazilian banker file encryption algorithm

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June 28, 2010

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Strong but unfamiliar encryption technology and various cryptographic locks guarding the secret files of a Brazilian banker suspected of big financial crimes have defeated local law enforcement officials, even the FBI.

Police in Brazil have seized no less than 5 hard drives when they raided the Rio apartment of banker Daniel Dantas as part of Operation Satyagraha in July 2008.

However, subsequent efforts to decrypt data files held on Dantas' computer using a variety of dictionary-based attacks failed even after the Brazilian government called in the assistance of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Overall, the Brazilian National Institute of Criminology tried for five months to obtain access to the encrypted files but without any success before turning over the task to code-breakers at the FBI in February of last year.

Computer security experts in the U.S. also drew a blank even after twelve months of efforts to decode the encrypted data, Brazil's El Globo newspaper reports.

The files were encrypted using TrueCrypt and an unnamed algorithm, reportedly based on the 256-bit AES standard. In the U.K., Dantas would be compelled to reveal his passphrase under threat of imprisonment, but no such law exists in Brazil.

The case clearly illustrates how care in choosing secure passwords and applying encryption techniques to avoid leaving file fragments that could aid code breakers are more important in maintaining security than the algorithm itself.

In other similar criminal cases, law enforcement officials have defeated a suspects' use of encryption because of weak cryptographic trade craft or poor passwords, rather than inherent flaws in encryption technology.

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Source: Brazil El Globo News.

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