Basement server

There are some technical inaccuracies in this article.

More on that in a moment.

However — what the hell was Clinton thinking, setting up some clandestine-ish basement email server?

I don’t know if what she did was illegal or not. It probably was, or should be. But good god was it ever crazy stupid.

But I have to say the reporter has no idea how email encryption works.

Not until March 29, 2009 — two months after Clinton began using it — did the server receive a “digital certificate” that protected communication over the Internet through encryption, according to Venafi’s analysis.

No. Though it’s unclear exactly what the journalist is even discussing. The traffic — and here I presume they are discussing traffic between the email server and Clinton’s Blackberry — would have already been encrypted. That’s just how Blackberry works (though it’s been many years since I’ve set up a BB server) and as far as I recall it is not even possible to turn that off.

“That means that anyone could have accessed it. Anyone,” Kevin Bocek, vice president of threat intelligence at Venafi, told The Post.

Wrong! So if the journalist and some “threat intelligence” nincompoop are correct that the server did not have an official cert from a certificate-issuing organization, but that also does not necessarily mean that traffic outside the Blackberry realm was un-encrypted, just that there was no official cert (which can be more secure if you think the cert-issuing organization itself is compromised!)

Which seems to have been the case.

But email encryption has several layers:

  • Is the device itself encrypted?
  • Is the transport from the device to the email service provider/server encrypted?
  • Is the email itself encrypted separate of the device and the server?
  • Is non-BB-device access to the email server encrypyted (OWA, etc.)?
  • Is the transport from the email server to other email servers encrypted?

This shit can get complicated.

BTW, that last bullet point is the killer; most of this is still unencrypted, and I doubt Clinton’s email server had any encryption on that level with most recipients. At most the server probably had opportunistic encryption enabled, which’d mean it’d fall back to unencrypted if no negotiation of encryption were possible (probably about 60% of email servers).

So in short, Clinton did a very stupid, technically-incompetent and possibly illegal thing that no one in that position should ever do no matter how much encryption there was.