O Assuring Confidentiality

Confidentiality is the control for assuring that an asset displayed or exchanged between parties cannot be known beyond those parties. Encryption is the most common kind of successfully applied confidentiality. Even obscurement may be considered a type of confidentiality, although cracking it only requires an attentive and focused attacker who does thorough reconnaissance.

Applying confidentiality requires using a publicly open and thoroughly tested algorithm together with a strong process for protecting the keys, often using other controls. It makes no sense to go with new, proprietary encryption schemes, especially if they are closed to public review (or any review), because you cannot be certain of what you are getting. The problem is that most applications surrounding new encryption schemes often need to rely on marketing hype and poorly defined statistics to sell their wares. Unlike open and publicly reviewed encryption algorithms that do not need to sell themselves this way, the new schemes have not yet been submitted to an appropriate peer review or have not passed one—therefore the need for hype.

Using obscurity instead of encryption also has its place in defending against automated attacks that target according to specific criteria. By not matching that criteria, an unencrypted message is sufficiently obscured to avoid attack. A simple example of this is to use the DNS protocol instead of POP to send or download mail. This circumvents some firewalls and specific home mail policies at work because the protocol is not expected or automatically filtered. However, a thorough investigation of network traffic would turn up the content of those requests as being POP mail. Obscuring the POP protocol, therefore, provides confidentiality but not from all types of interception. When using obscurity to hide JavaScript or other types of code on websites, or steganography to embed messages in images, you must be aware that it will not protect you against a targeted attack.

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