2016-12-27

Scentrics finds that security is hard

Two years ago I wrote about Scentrics and their "Key Man" security proposal. I wondered idly what had happened there so did some Googling. Turns out that I'm the top two hits for [scentrics key man] which is heart-warming for me but suggests that their world-beating security patent might have sunk like a stone...

I went to their website www.scentrics.com and noted that it didn't redirect to https. I tried https://www.scentrics.com and lo! Chrome's Red "Not secure" Warning of Death appears. Seems that Scentrics can't even secure their website, which is not a little ironic when their home page trumpets "Secure with Scentrics".

All the pages on the site - even "Overview and Vision" and "Careers" - are hidden behind a sign-on box, declaring the website "invitation only" and inviting you to contact "admin@scentrics.com" if you'd like access. You can view headers, but that's about it. You wonder why they would be so sensitive about exposing information like that.

The 2016 news included a nugget from the Daily Telegraph in June:

Scentrics is poised to seek new funding that would value the company at more than $1 billion as it prepares to rollout its infrastructure for the first time.
"Poised", huh? I like that. I read that as "not yet ready". I also like the uncritical write-up of the company's pitch:
Individual messages and documents sent over the internet can be unlocked without compromising the overall security of the network, according to Scentrics's pitch to operators and governments.
Remember that this essentially involved encrypting one copy of a message with the recipient's public key, and another with a government/agency public key, and storing the latter to give the agency access on demand. The government and security agencies involved might not think that this "compromises" the overall security of the network, but as a consumer of the network's function I can assure them that I'd feel very differently. And of course for this to be effective all network users would have to use a very small ecosystem of only approved apps / browsers which implemented this dual encryption, and maintained the central repository of government-friendly encrypted messages. I'm sure there's no risk of systematic system compromise there by insiders at all.

Companies House shows three officers plus a secretarial company including our old friend Guruparan "Paran" Chandrasekaran. Looks like Sir Francis Mackay, David Rapoport and Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra resigned since 2014, which is interesting because the latter gent used to be the Prime Minister of Thailand, and Scentrics trumpted his role in the Telegraph piece, but as of 1 month ago he's out of his company role.

According to their June 2015 accounts they have about GBP4.2M in net assets, looks like they had an infusion of about GBP4.5M during the year. Going from this to a $1bn valuation seems... optimistic.

Update: Looks like Scentrics are diving into Singapore with advertisements for Project Manager and Devops roles there. This seems to be part of the Singapore government's "Smart Nation" project for a unified network in Singapore:

  • A Smart Nation is one where people are empowered by technology to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives.
  • A Smart Nation harnesses the power of networks, data and info-comm technologies to improve living, create economic opportunity and build a closer community.
  • A Smart Nation is built not by Government, but by all of us - citizens, companies, agencies. This website chronicles some of our endeavours and future directions.
Cutting through the marketing speak, Singaporeans will be using a government-provided network for all services including personal and business communication. With Scentrics playing a role, the benevolent semi-dictatorship of Singapore will be able to snoop on all its citizens' internal communications at will.

Scentrics seems to be very comfortable enabling a government's surveillance on its citizens. I wonder how this is going to work out for them long-term given the distinctly libertarian tilt of most software engineers.

[Disclaimer: no share position in Scentrics. Financially I don't care if they live or die. Personally, I'd incline towards the latter.]

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