S/Mime usage

Phillip Hallam-Baker phill at hallambaker.com
Tue Oct 8 18:28:29 UTC 2019


TLDR; If any of you here will be at the Singapore IETF, we need to talk.


S/MIME and OpenPGP both have userbases of roughly 3 million registered keys
and probably about a million actual active users.

These userbases are distinct because the validation processes for one do
not work for the other. OpenPGP is a better approach to authenticate Alice,
S/MIME is the better way to authenticate Bob's Bank.

The reason almost nobody is using S/MIME on Thunderbird today is that
obtaining and installing a certificate is utterly awful. It took me 15
minutes to complete and I have 25 years experience. Those who do are
probably working in the federal government or its principal contractors.


I have been looking at ways to get the Internet to use end-to-end secure
email and my conclusion was that it is a BetaMax vs VHS issue, both camps
are completely locked in and neither is ever going to budge. So if we want
to support end-to-end secure, the only long term strategy to achieve that
is to do what ended the BetaMax/VHS battle and move to DVD.

If this is going to work, we really need to bring those legacy user
communities along with us. So to move to something better we have to first
fix S/MIME and OpenPGP. And that means fixing the way keys are registered
and the way they are managed across devices.

I have a proposal to do exactly that. It is called the Mathematical Mesh
and if my proposal was accepted, the IETF will be discussing forming a
working group on it at the Singapore IETF this November.

The Mesh makes configuring the email client really easy whether the user
has one device for email or ten. It allows the use of any trust model
including the OpenPGP and S/MIMe models. It also supports configuration of
any application with cryptography.

I am currently finishing production of some videos that will introduce the
Mesh. Naturally, the Mesh is open at every level as I explain in the second
video. But it is not limited to end to end secure email and the question
you might want to ask is whether this is a slippery slope you want to go
down carefully or on skis.


Right now, the only way to have an end to end secure conversation is to
find out if the other party uses keybase, Signal, Telegram, etc. log into
the one they use and chat.

What if Thunderbird was also an end-to-end secure chat client and it wasn't
limited to a single service provider?

What if the same end-to-end secure protocol that supported synchronous
messaging also supported asynchronous (i.e. mail)?

The Mesh is not the only proposal that has been made in this space but it
is the first that makes use of 'meta-cryptography' which is a bit of
marketecture for some techniques invented in the 1990s that have not been
used in commercial cryptography to date.



On Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 8:49 AM Kai Engert <kaie at kuix.de> wrote:

> On 08.10.19 14:02, Ludovic Hirlimann wrote:
> > but is s/mime support worth keeping ?
>
> I wouldn't consider the barrier of entry to actively use it as a
> sufficient reason to remove it.
>
> Even if not using S/MIME actively, Thunderbird users can passively
> benefit from S/MIME support, by being able to verify the digital
> signature in emails. I frequently receive digitally signed S/MIME email
> sent to me by banks, companies, insurances or the post office.
>
> Also, I assume there are many corporate Thunderbird users who are still
> happy that we support S/MIME.
>
> Kai
> _______________________________________________
> tb-planning mailing list
> tb-planning at mozilla.org
> https://mail.mozilla.org/listinfo/tb-planning
>
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