The Slippery Slope of Encryption and Terrorism

encryption photoThis is really bugging me: Two nights in a row, on major news outlets reporting on the horrific attack on Paris, I have heard the reporters say things like, “the terrorists used encryption technology to ‘go dark’.”

I heard that on CBS evening news tonight (slightly paraphrased).

Last night on CNN, Poppy Sanchez (or whatever her name is) said that encryption was used to hide all of their communications, and that it was very concerning.

They are alluding to encryption as a bad thing because the terrorists used it to coordinate their attacks. They may have used automobiles too, but they didn’t seem concerned about that.

Why this attention to encryption irks me is because there has been a concerted effort by governments of the world (ours in the forefront) to get major tech companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook, more) to build so-called “backdoors” into encryption technology.

That means that if you send an encrypted message to someone, otherwise unreadable by anyone except the person you sent it to, it can still be read through this “backdoor” by the governments who are in cahoots with the tech companies, allegedly to be able to monitor communications amongst the bad guys.

You’d think that’s a good idea, right? Well, it’s been proven over and over again that backdoors get found and exploited by people who are not supposed to find them.

That is what hackers do, for better or for worse, and it’s usually for the better. You heard me correctly. Hackers find exploits and tell people about them so that they get fixed, and make everyone safer.

That is what my day job involves, actually. Sure, there are evil hackers who like to exploit these things for nefarious purposes, but that’s why we continue to find vulnerabilities and fix them.

The news outlets are pushing this idea that encryption is some dark arts majik that terrorists are using, while no one else would ever dare need such a thing. I worry that this will give the general public the wrong idea: that encryption = terrorism, so we need to do something about it.

What better time to push this idea than after a terrible tragedy?

I will link to my favorite article about encryption. It’s short, and it makes sense, and you should read it. For now, a quote:

Today, we are seeing government pushback against encryption. Many countries, from States like China and Russia to more democratic governments like the United States and the United Kingdom, are either talking about or implementing policies that limit strong encryption. This is dangerous, because it’s technically impossible, and the attempt will cause incredible damage to the security of the Internet.

–Bruce Schneier, in Why We Encrypt

 

Edit (9:4pm): I missed the story circulating about this exact topic, confirming everything above.

Photos by Encryptomatic,

About Will Chatham

Will Chatham is a Cyber Security Analyst, Ethical Hacker, and Penetration Tester at a data center in Asheville, NC. Since Netscape 2.0, he has worked in a wide array of environments including non-profit, corporate, small business, and government. His varied background, from developer to search engine optimizer to security professional, has helped him build a wide range of skills that help those with whom he works and teaches.
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One Comment

  1. Yeah, I was watching CBS this morning, and they had some talking head going on about how “maybe this will quiet all those people who are so concerned about ‘privacy.'”

    Not sure how the horrible events in Paris change the conversation about privacy, but I guess he’s probably right that it will give the government more ammo to have access to all of the everything.

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