TrueCrypt Deniable File System Broken

The other day, Bruce Schneier had some post about securing data for border crossings and in the comments someone asked why not just use TrueCrypt’s deniable file system, which in TrueCrypt’s implementation hides an encrypted file system within a TrueCrypt encrypted volume. Schneier responded that he didn’t trust TrueCrypt’s deniable file system, and today he reveals why — he and several other researchers are publishing a paper announcing they were able to break that particular feature of TrueCrypt.

ABSTRACT: We examine the security requirements for creating a Deniable File System (DFS), and the efficacy with which the TrueCrypt disk-encryption software meets those requirements. We find that the Windows Vista operating system itself, Microsoft Word, and Google Desktop all compromise the deniability of a TrueCrypt DFS. While staged in the context of TrueCrypt, our research highlights several fundamental challenges to the creation and use of any DFS: even when the file system may be deniable in the pure, mathematical sense, we find that the environment surrounding that file system can undermine its deniability, as well as its contents. Finally, we suggest approaches for overcoming these challenges on modern operating systems like Windows.

TrueCrypt has apparently addressed many of the specific issues raised by the paper in their 6.0 release, but Schneier’s claim is that there are inherent problems to creating a deniable file system so even though the techniques outlined in the paper will not work against TrueCrypt 6.0, even the deniable file system there should be treated as untrusted. Better to go with whole disk encryption, which loses the deniability but is more secure.

The entire paper is avaialble as a PDF download.

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