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Re: Why do people fight about S/MIME vs. PGP rather than use MOSS?

1997-11-30 15:38:11
Sorry for the massive cross-post, I just didn't know which e-mail list
David's reply came about...

I am  a member of a  EDI standards organization currently  preparing a
recommendation  for   their   members on  applying    Internet  E-Mail
standards.  Of course, security is a major issue here. Our observation
is that the  field is everything else than  clear while PGP and S/MIME
camps  are fighting each   other.

First I'll summarize your points:

Actually, my perception is somewhat different. It is that S/MIME is
simply going about its business, and has by far the most massively
installed base on the Internet, in terms of both Netscape and
Microsoft, as well as by far the broadest capital investment, in

1. The "userbase"

terms of its consortium. I use both, think each has its place, and
think the difference is in trust algorithms.  I believe each trust
algorithm has important uses and neither should try to subsume the
other because it will lose unique advantages for the things it is
well suited.

2. Trust "algorithms"

3. Either has "unique" advantages

My own observation is that most such conflicts (other than religious wars)
stem from the unwillingness on the part of PGP fans to acknowledge that
S/MIME involves intellectual property--a fact--which is entitled to a fair
return. This is most odd, since PGP is also a commercial product which is
sold in the marketplace.

4. Intellectual "property"

There is also a deeper issue involved. The Internet was originally built
with a significant component of the "gift" model. Software was free for the
taking, and a rich uncle, the US taxpayer, provided for much that had to be
paid for. This is no longer the case, and
the Internet is well and truly a free-market commercial proposition
although some users are subsidized to this day, mostly academics and
students. It is exactly these users who seem most vociferous about "free".
This is both inappropriate and maladaptive.

5. The "gift model" no longer holds today

Similarly, we've seen the sight of PGP Inc. disenfranchinsing a huge
RSA-key PGP user base in free version 5.53, along with the web of
signatures built up over several years. Again--never mind; the Open PGP
working group must simply insure that that cannot happen again with Open

6. David, you are obviously from the S/MIME camp, and you keep
fighting against PGP, even though I did not raise my voice for PGP
vs. S/MIME. There is a misunderstanding to my open letter.

As  much as I am confident
in the IETF  to stick to its  former  policy propagating open,  freely
available, simple and effective standards, I am nevertheless concerned
that industry is  on the edge to do  a lot of harm in  that field.  It
seems already that the  "Internet Mail Consortium"  will have a strong
impact in  IETF   standardization, and  as  the   IMC is   an industry
consortium, is not committed to the IETF policy.

One must face the reality of both existence and choice in the marketplace.

7. Either standards are not a reduction of choice and optionality, or
you are against the standardization. 

If yor S/MIME has the "user base" and is self sufficient in that, why
are you seeking for the blessings of being called an Internet
standard? It is probably an abuse of the term "standard" not being an
end in itself but a marketing tool.

I   have a strong  personal distaste  with S/MIME,   as the PKCS specs
require ASN.1, X500 and other OSI stuff that  does not merge very well
with  the rest of  the Internet infrastructure.

Like the bumblebee, S/MIME is out there in millions (well over 25 million)
of installed base copies of Netscape and Explorer. Perhaps if there is a
problem with the "internet infrastructure" it is that which needs

What I meant by "infrastructure" is design and technology. The IETF
has early enough opened itself up to OSI concepts and ASN.1. However,
these keep to not really fit into the rest of the internet
infrastructure. One good example is that X500 needed LDAP to be
deployed within the Internet infrastructure. 

Thus far I've not heard of the Internet crashing down because
of the particular crypto protocols in, say, Netscape. There are far more

I am not talking about crashes -- these happened to me back in the
times when I used "userbase" and "marketplace" software :-). I am
talking about interoperability on an open an equal basis. I speak your
language, you speak mine. That is O.K. Any ideolect for the sake of
"intellectual property" (what a term after all!) is impeding
interoperability. You raised the points about RC2 elsewhere. And, was
it you, who used the term "fascist" for the people who claim that
internet standards be openly specified and freely useable from that
specification? (If it was not you, it was an other David -- but your
points where so similar)

Actors are entitled to a return from their investment in intellectual
property. In this case the ultimate beneficiary are the assignees of the
inventors, e.g. MIT. You are appealing to a model here which has long been
discredited as a basis for the stimulation and preservation of innovation..

Oops? I think I am hearing wrong. "A model which has long been
discredited as a basis for the stimulation and preservation of
innovation". Now tell me, who invented the Internet that Microsoft is
so proud of today (at last, once they became aware of it)? It was
developed at universities, funded by DARPA. This is why I think that
most innovations have been achieved by governamntal funding and *not*
on industry on a competitional basis. Think of the NASA for an other
example. But back to the internet. Tell me, who invented it? Industry
was in fact not really interested in it before some Physicists at CERN
(again a governmentally founded research organization) invented the
WWW. The industry discovered the WWW as a perfect marketing tool, and
helped spread the HTTP/TCP/IP as the most important informational
revolution since the Television. But did they add any technological
benefit to these protocols? Tell me? So how can you say that anything
else "discredits" itself as a basis for innovation? I have been
repeatedly frustrated by the intellectual poorness of software
industry, and I would long have quit informatics if there was not the
other side: inspiring researchers that live the freedom of speech and
intellectual sharing!

It was RSADSI who, in effect, brought RSA and many other algorithms to the
marketplace, including two used in PGP. Similarly, it was IDEA which also
(as a commercial product via ASCOM AG) contributed to PGP. RSA Laboratories
continues to be one source for much of the world's crypto research outside
of government. That isn't an eelymosynary gift but must ultimately draw on

First of all it was not RSADSI. It was Rivest, Shamir and Adleman, who
worked at MIT founded by governmental grants (a fact that -- in your
voice -- should discredit the innovative nature of the RSA
algorithm). As much as five (5!) years later, the patent was
claimed. This patent was then sold to RSADSI. Since then, RSADSI
together with US crypto legislation and NSA is effectively fighting
against the wide spread use of security standards in the name of some
"intellectual property" (and anti-kommunist paranoia at the side of US
govt. and NSA). It is the scandal that the discovery of asymmetric
ciphers is only about 10 years olter than that of packet switched
networking. While the latter succeeded revolutionizing the
informational world, the world of security still suffers from the new
advocates of the "intellectual property" construct.

payment for intellectual property. The notion that the Internet should use
only free crypto is a guaranteed formula to kill such innovation except in
the glacial corridors of academe, and force the successful commercial
actors to "tunnel" rather than benefitting the entire net. And even those
magisterial academic confines lead to things like RSA and RSADSI; to patent
licensing and charging for intellectual property.

This is rubbish, and you know it. There is not much to be
theoretically developed in security today, all knowledge is there for
more than ten years. The problem is deployment. Companies seem to be
too involved with patent rights and marketing that they are unable to
deploy knowledge and standards that do exist since many many
years. This is the kind of "anti-innovative" behavior that is
discrediting the software industry as being oriented towards commerce,
profit at first, and not towards intellectual innovations, not even
towards their user's needs: as interoperability is one of the most
important user-need being sacrificed for the sake of "intellectual

Of course if you want guaranteed old technology, don't use anything until
the patent has expired.

Diffie-Hellman is luckily out of that margin. It is good old

<MOSS discussion omitted>

that was in fact my main point. But you seem to love fighting against
PGP. So, here goes ...

Why don't they sit together, listing their

I believe this would be a major blunder.

Boy, can you explain me how in the world reconciliation can ever be a
blunder? The "world of difference" is speaking here.

I would stop here, did I not start with listing your arguments in a
few points.

1. The "userbase"

The userbase that you cite comes easily by having Netscape and
Microsoft select S/MIME. But don't ask how many S/MIME installations
do exist, but how many of them are actually *used*. I'd be interested
in a good statistics that compares actual *users* not posessors of
S/MIME vs. PGP software.

2. Trust "algorithms"

PGP is already on its way towards trusted third parties. And it is
useful. Conversely, I have heard S/MIME and SSL to be used without
real TTPs, but with a locally base of certificates. You are right,
both methods have its uses. But you are badly wrong in pointing out
that both methods require mutually non-interoperable software.

The interesting point is that the only real algorithmical difference
between traditional PGP vs. RSADSI was the use of IDEA vs. RC4. MOSS
-- here I am at my point -- shows clearly how easy it is to just use
these algorithms at will in a modular and interoperable way. They are
both so similar and the differences are so ridiculously unimportant
that it is a scandal that there is no common open Internet security
standard yet.

3. Either has "unique" advantages

see above. If they had, why not listing them and join all advantages
into one standard? It is blunder? It is the only intellectual work
that is missing in the field. See how the world suffers from commerce
which is obviously unable to bring this little reconciliation while
loosing the slight "difference" which they are all so proud of.

4. Intellectual "property"

It is a term that has to be discussed. But not now. The interesting
point is to study the intellectual revolution that spread from the
invention of Gutenberg's technology to spread ideas and compare it
with the recently raised issue of "property". Ridicoulous if Einstein,
Heisenberg, Zuse, Watson, or whoever you name, had insist on their
"intellectual property".

5. The "gift model" no longer holds today

I showed you the opposit above. Again tell me, who invented the
internet and what did "the industry" do about it?

6. David, you are obviously from the S/MIME camp, and you keep
fighting against PGP, even though I did not raise my voice for PGP
vs. S/MIME. There is a misunderstanding to my open letter.

My claim was to preach reconciliation on an open basis. I am sorry for
this thread to fall into a flamewar.


Gunther Schadow-----------Windsteiner Weg 54a, Berlin 14165, FR. Germany
Dept. of Anaesthesia, Benjamin Franklin Univerity Hospital, Berlin.
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