Encrypted Communications: Way to Security or Risk?

By CIOReview | Wednesday, July 15, 2015
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FREMONT, CA: So what happens when ones protector turns out to be the violator of their rights? What happens when the very foundation on which a nation-state is born is shaken? These are just a few questions lurking amidst the whole controversy regarding the demand for special access to encrypted communications.

Two sides of the debate- one US government and the other consisting of conscientious cryptographers and computer scientists have taken this issue to another level by invoking the right to privacy and security. The whistleblowers feel it is ironic that the state cherishes freedom with its Statue of Liberty whereas in reality it is breaching the very right it had sworn to protect.

In 1997, the federal authorities and the security experts were involved in a similar battle; the experts won the case at that point of time. Many of the authors of the new report were also behind the anti-encryption effort back then; however, the present situation seems rather dicey.

The authorities argue that encryption hinders their efforts to get hold of the criminals and terrorists. They assert that right to privacy is not absolute and must be weighed against public-safety interests. "We are seeing more and more cases where we believe significant evidence resides on a phone, a tablet, or a laptop -- evidence that may be the difference between an offender being convicted or acquitted," says FBI Director James Comey and Sally Quillian Yates, US Deputy Attorney General, in joint prepared remarks. "If we cannot access this evidence, it will have ongoing, significant impacts on our ability to identify, stop, and prosecute these offenders."

However, the group arguing for pro encryption policy believes government’s stance is unethical.  “The government’s proposals for exceptional access are wrong in principle and unworkable in practice,” says Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at the University of Cambridge. “That is the message we are going to be hammering home again and again over the next few months as we oppose these proposals in your country and in ours.”

Prominent technologists, civic organizations, and companies have signed an open letter to President Obama urging him to preserve strong encryption in order to protect national security and US business interests. The letter argues "Whether you call them 'front doors' or 'back doors,' introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure against other attackers."

The group believes that the access key given to the authorities can as well be misused or targeted by the hackers. The authorities’ whole plan would then in the process turn out to be counterproductive.