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Newly launched Tipping Trees network defeats Heartbleed with client-side encryption

Industry: Social Networking

Founded by entrepreneurial engineers Steven Foerster and Calvin Gardner, Tipping Trees secures data before sending via SSL/TLS, thwarting Heartbleed and similar attacks.

Fairfax, VA (PRUnderground) April 14th, 2014

Over the past year and a half, Steven Foerster and Calvin Gardner have built and rebuilt their free encrypted communications network Tipping Trees (https://TippingTrees.com), aiming to extend a reasonable expectation of privacy to routine online interactions. Tipping Trees’ default encryption specifications include:

  • Client-side encryption with 2048-bit RSA keys and 128-bit AES keys.
  • Client-side SHA-512 password hashing followed by server-side salting and SHA-512 hashing.
  • Unique 512-bit session keys to encrypt data stored in the browser.
  • Compartmentalized database tables to protect user meta data.
  • An integrated RSA key signature scheme to verify user identities.

Taking Heartbleed as a test case, Tipping Trees is doing something right.

“Even with compromised SSL, the Tipping Trees network was not exposed, our users’ data was never obtainable, and they do not need to change their passwords. Tipping Trees remains secure,” said Foerster. “A layer of client-side cryptography, built into our low-level code, provides the extra level of security defeating a bug like Heartbleed requires,” added Gardner.

Tipping Trees willingly demonstrates this extra layer. On their site they actually provide a “live look-in” to portions of their underlying database. Real encrypted messages from actual users, compartmentalized into tables. Although the data is publicly available, the messages are irrecoverable. It isn’t even possible to tell who is talking to who, a “Zero-Knowledge Design.”

Tipping Trees makes it easy for users to do some useful things cryptographically:

  • Every user locally generates their own 2048-bit RSA key, associated to their email address.
  • Users use their RSA keys to send encrypted messages to one another and authenticate sender identities.
  • Encrypted messages can be copied to a user’s email address, including a link that will only open and decrypt the message when the recipient is logged-in to Tipping Trees.
  • People without a Tipping Trees account can still encrypt messages for a Tipping Trees user, and share the encrypted message anywhere as a link accessible only to that user.
  • An account isn’t necessary to use a simple AES-256 key file encrypter/decrypter.
  • Tipping Trees users can form “groups” with a shared cryptographic key for encrypted chatting with mouseover sender verification.
  • Users establish contact with one another by cryptographically signing each other’s RSA keys and Tipping Trees displays the number of signatures a key has collected as a simple indicator of reliability.

Still the founders’ enthusiasm is tempered by realism, “Look,” said Gardner, “this is browser-based encryption and for now that includes some inherent limitations. But we aren’t trying to build a ‘safe house,’ we are trying to build a home, a convenient place online where you can reasonably expect to know the identity of your guests and be rather certain that everything you do isn’t being surveilled, recorded, and preserved forever.” Foerster agrees, “The internet depends on dynamically downloading code, necessitating a level of trust in that code’s origin. We aren’t out to eliminate that. We want to earn trust, strengthen it, and facilitate a web of trusted connections: Tipping Trees, simply more than trust.”

Tipping Trees development is ongoing with apps, premium features, browser extensions, cryptocurrency integration, additional key reliability metrics, and an API in the works.

About Tipping Trees, LLC

Founded in 2013, Tipping Trees, LLC operates an online encryption network aimed at restoring privacy to everyday interactions. Current Tipping Trees users can invite contacts to join the network, or invitations may be requested at TippingTrees.com.

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Calvin Gardner

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