Security

Google’s Key Transparency project aims to ease a tough task in cryptography

Comment

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Those of us in userland may rarely have to worry about the nuts and bolts of encryption, but they exist nevertheless and must be replaced or updated now and then. Google is taking aim at one particularly stubborn nut, public key verification, with a new open source project called Key Transparency.

It’s a sequel of sorts to Certificate Transparency, a project with similar aims but, necessarily, a very different implementation. Both address a common problem on the internet: the need to verify that the person or server you’re connecting to is the one you think you’re connecting to

One solution is something like Keybase, a collection of verified users and their various cryptographic credentials (PGP and all that). What Google wants to do, however, is to make sure that these contact details are verified at a systematic level that protects privacy as well.

In other words, you should be able not just to trust a verified address that you find online, but that address should double-check itself as part of the process of establishing a connection, in order to prevent things like man-in-the-middle attacks.

Think of it like this: you could look up someone’s address online in a verified source like the voting records — but by the time you visit their house, there’s no guarantee the person you want isn’t tied up in the back while someone else impersonates them. The addition of Key Transparency would be like asking whoever answers the door to show you their ID before you talk.

Okay, so it’s not a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea.

Essentially, Key Transparency uses a large-scale database of accounts and their public keys, encoded in such a way that they are obscure to an attacker but verifiable by users. The specifics, to be honest, are above my level of cryptographic literacy, but essentially the actual info forms the lowest level of a “Merkle Tree” that can be assembled and verified from the bottom up with information traded among its users — but only hashed data, not actual user data like emails and PGP keys.

merkletree
Google says: Merkle Tree Hash is used to prove that Leaf A is part of the root hash K by hashing Leaf A, and then combining the resulting hash E with intermediate nodes F and J to compute K. If the computed K is equal to the known-good K, the proof is correct and Leaf A is part of K. If the computed K is not equal to the known-good K, a data corruption warning must be displayed. (There will be a quiz.)

You start with information you know — or think you know — and the hash of this is added to other users’ hashes and rehashed. If this second (or third or fourth or 256th) hash matches, you’re good. If it doesn’t, one of the piece of information is wrong and needs to be rechecked.

That’s about as specific as I can get; you can read the overview of the technical method on Github.

The end result is that you can verify your information only if you already have it, and without disclosing or learning any information from other users of the database. It’s efficient, auditable, highly scalable (the lowest level supports 2^256-1 “leaves” but verification does not require more than a few at a time), and potentially easily integrated into credential-tracking services like Keybase or into secure communications.

Google collaborated with CONIKS team, Open Whisper Systems, and with the security team at Yahoo! (soon to be Altaba) on Key Transparency. It’s “very early days,” the blog post announcing it reads, so it’ll be a while before it’s added to any products. In the meantime, feel free to peruse or contribute to the codebase.

More TechCrunch

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine