Cryptography Backdoors Undermine User Security

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Alvin Bryan

Alvin Bryan is a freelance writer and online privacy enthusiast enthusiast currently contributing quality tips and troubleshooting on personal VPN services, and online privacy and security news. You can also find him on Google +.

Apple’s iOS 8 is out with data encryption for users, and Google’s encrypted Android L is expected soon. Apple and Google both announced that their newest devices would come with encryption technology. US law enforcement officials have been having tantrums ever since. They want cryptography backdoors in al devices so that they can access stored data. They say that encryption protects criminals and makes others able to commit criminal acts. The bottom line, however, is the protection of people’s basic rights and upholding laws on reasonable search and seizure. Both tech giants have a lot to make up for in terms of privacy guarantees after they cooperated with NSA spy programs.

Top Law Enforcement Hates Encryption, Wants Cryptography Backdoors

Cryptography Backdoor SecurityEarly this month, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that device encryption allows criminals to hide from police. He is concerned that smartphones and other devices will soon all use encryption by default. He went as far as to say that children are being endangered when devices cannot be physically probed by law enforcement. Holder, the top US law enforcement official, maintains that user privacy can be achieved without locking the authorities out of phones. He did not define, however, what he believes to be adequate privacy protection. He also talked about legal procedures and how encrypted devices impede law enforcement initiatives. But he did not mention that the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is not valid for mobile phones and ISPs. Telecommunications companies may have to allow police to tap their networks. Internet services and smartphone users are not required to help the authorities penetrate devices.

The Attorney General wants tech companies to plant cryptography backdoors into their systems so that the authorities have access. He is appealing to these companies to consider his stance, but they will probably not listen. The public has grown very wary of law enforcement promises. The government has lied a lot about secretly spying on innocent people. Any device that has a cryptography backdoor will not be popular with consumers. Holder added that these cryptography backdoors would be used in court-approved crime investigations. But people are not as trusting of such claims as they were pre-Snowden. In any case, law enforcement can still obtain warrants to search and seize material from phones, cloud storage, and the like. They just can’t get it directly by breaking encryption.

FBI Cryptography BackdoorCompanies have the right to shut law enforcement out of their systems. This is a big reason for the FBI’s recent plea for a new CALEA and data retention laws. The authorities don’t want anyone going dark. But without CALEA 2.0 and other laws, they have no legal arm. FBI Director James Comey told reporters in late September that he worried about Apple and Google releasing smartphone operating systems that defeat physical searches. He said that encrypting by default is a deliberate attempt to give people the means to evade detection. He also said theta people are more likely to break the law when aided by this and anonymizing services like VPNs. This may be true, but the fact remains that privacy is a basic right. The FBI has not asked for cryptography backdoors but has contacted both tech giants to find out, he says, why they perceive encryption to be a good move.

Comey clearly does not understand the demand for encryption in post-Snowden times. Apple has already announced to the media that privacy and security from criminals was the main objective. These criminals actually use the cryptography backdoors that are provided for police use. Google already started a history of advocating encryption technology that spread fast after the NSA revelations. Android experts warn, however, that some device locks can be bypassed even without cryptography backdoors. And they remind users that any data stored in the cloud can be accessed by the authorities with the proper warrants. In effect, data encryption by default and the closing of cryptography backdoors gives smartphones the same protection that other phones have. What is curious in light of this is why law enforcement officials are so angered over the move. Encryption protects users from criminals. It is opening cryptography backdoors that puts users at risk from the criminals that police claim encryption aids. And the authorities can still access data anyway with proper search warrants. They are making debasing claims because they want their job to be easier even if people are in danger because of it.

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