There is no encryption debate

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, national security officials in the Western world have stepped up their demands to break or block encryption.

This has created the appearance of a debate on the subject of encryption, when that’s not true at all. In reality there’s just a demand being made by intelligence agencies that almost no expert outside of those directly serving government interests has endorsed.

“The threat posed to us by the group called ISIL, the so-called Islamic State, which, in the United States we talk about what they’ve been doing here, the recruiting through social media, if they find a live one, they move them to Twitter direct messaging. Which we can get access to through judicial process,” FBI Director James Comey said when making the case for access to encrypted data in November.

“But if they find someone they think may kill on their behalf, or might come and kill in the caliphate, they move to a mobile messaging app that’s end-to-end encrypted.”

Comey did acknowledge that encryption offers important privacy protections for individuals and businesses — but, to him, the life-and-death security needs of the government require that those concerns be made secondary.

It’s an emotional argument — that has been recently been backed up by unconfirmed reports that the Paris attackers likely used encrypted technology through the apps WhatsApp and Telegram.

Comey responded to these reports by saying that “the use of encryption is at the center of terrorist trade craft.”

In other words, if you don’t give us access to encrypted data, you’re abetting terrorism.

No one wants blood on their hands — or their app. That’s what makes the government’s demand so tough to resist. Still, some of the most powerful people in technology have stated that they’re willing to stand up to this tough talk.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has articulated the general consensus of most tech experts: You can’t give back doors only to the good guys.

“Once an encryption system is breached, a cascade of other actors, from malevolent hackers to foreign dictatorships like China and Russia will waltz through that backdoor, either by hacking or by enacting laws requiring that U.S. companies provide them the same access provided to American agencies,” Walt Mossberg explained.

“Even without a backdoor, there are still many avenues that authorities can use to track terrorists,” he added.

These methods don’t require giving up the a crucial defense from cyber-espionage in an era when digital spying by governments is proliferating.

“Practically every expert agrees that cryptographic backdoors imperil security, and no amount of ‘cybering harder’ will change this,”Nicholas Weaver wrote. “Yet even though encryption technology can be used to deny an investigator’s access to a suspect’s information, its existence doesn’t mean that police forces are powerless.”

He points out that law enforcement still has it within its power to track suspects’ “behavior, movements and associates without having to ever worry about the effects of cryptography.”

He notes: “There is near universal agreement that it is practically impossible to add in a ‘lawful access’ backdoor without weakening every user’s security. The government has powerful tools already at its disposal. Do we need to provide it with more?”

The urge to seize any tool at your disposal when you’re charged with the protection of the public may be understandably strong, but many ex-intelligence officials have spoken out to insist that urge be restrained.

Former NSA head Mike McConnell demanded that encryption be broken in the 1990s. He didn’t get what he wanted and now he’s glad.

“Technology will advance, and you can’t stop it,” he said. “Learn how to deal with it.”

Former Director of Homeland Security under George W. Bush called the demand to break end-to-end encryption “misguided,” adding that “it’s always been the case that in a free society you have less than perfect ability to detect people who do bad things.”

Every room in the world cannot be tapped — and even if this were possible, how would all of that data be made useful? Some degree secrecy will always exist, by law or by obscurity.

If the U.S gives intelligence agencies the keys to its encryption, it will simply drive “the market away from them,” said former CIA Director Michael Hayden. America would end up with the “worst of all worlds: there will be unbreakable encryption — it just won’t be made by American firms.”

Simply put: Encryption will always exist.

“Encryption is simply math,” Jon Evans wrote. “You cannot ban math. You cannot stop math.”

Our Mikko Hyppönen summed up the situation this way, “Banning encryption as an anti-terror measure would work just as well as simply banning terrorism.”

This is not debatable. It’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that governments can demand that specific encryption in specific services be broken. That would be a win for bad governments and a huge blow to the technology industries in these countries.

But it wouldn’t happen because the government had won the debate. It would happen because they ignored the facts.

[Image by Yuri Samoilov | Flickr]


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The 5 Minute Guide™ to App Store Security and Privacy

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January 17, 2017

5 Must-Read Online Privacy Articles from 2016

A great deal has happened within the online privacy sphere in the last 12 months. The subject has become a genuinely hot topic, and we have done our best to dissect relevant industry issues into an easily readable form while reporting directly from the eye of the storm, so to speak. Here are five essential reads to get you up to speed on the state of online privacy, VPN, and related topics. An Open Letter to Businesses who Block VPN on Their Wi-Fi Networks Ultimately, allowing the use of VPN on your Wi-Fi hotspot is your call. However, if you truly care about your customers, don’t be in the minority of businesses that forces them to give up their online security and privacy while browsing on your network. A Twitter user asked us a question that inspired our most viral article of the year, as well as the video response we produced as a follow-up. In the post and video, we emphasize the fact that companies end up shooting themselves in the foot by putting their customers’ security at risk. If you ever come across this consumer-unfriendly practice, we urge you to share the article and/or video! Read the full article here. How Does Encryption Work? “. . .It’s easy to forget that easy access to encryption greatly benefits even normal web users like you and me.” Our widely shared article on encryption exhibits a 360-degree view on encryption, providing readers with an overview of its history and a straightforward explanation of how modern VPNs ingeniously work to protect your privacy. If you’re interested in learning what’s under the hood of online privacy, this article is for you. 4 People Who See What Porn You Watch “A large majority of web users are lulled into a false sense of security by Incognito mode or private browsing, but this is only one of the steps needed toward becoming private online.” Many things take place “behind the scenes” on the Internet – these are things that we can’t see and therefore don’t think about. This admittedly attention-grabbing headline was meant as a wakeup call to the fact that adult content browsing histories aren’t as private as most people would like to think. Read up on a few people who have access to your porn browsing history, as well as some quick tips that can help prevent snooping. Privacy, Patriotism and PR: The Case of Apple vs. FBI “In this debate, privacy, patriotism and public relations are just some of the factors influencing a public discourse that has shifted to reflect new and often clashing attitudes towards encryption.” The Apple Vs. FBI case was the Clash of the Titans between privacy players that dominated mainstream news outlets throughout the first half of 2016, with ripples that are sure to affect the dynamics between companies and governments for years to come. We made a conscious effort to explore the issue from every possible angle, and the article is still a very relevant read. Why Do Newspapers Spy on You? “The longer something on the Internet is free, the harder it will be to make people start paying for it.” Who pays for a product that costs something to make but is free for the customer? In this article, we look at the idiosyncratic purchasing habits of modern web users and why these habits have lead news websites and other services to sacrifice their visitors’ privacy in order to stay in business. This piece is good food for thought for all consumers of online news.    

January 13, 2017

Mikko Hypponen: ‘Data is the New Oil’

"I believe data is the new oil," F-Secure's chief research officer Mikko Hypponen says. "And just like oil brought us both prosperity and problems, data will bring us prosperity, and problems." We're just beginning to understand how so-called "big data" is changing everything, even medical care. A new report from the Century Foundation reveals how the private information we share with practitioners gets anonymized and then mined. That information combined with metrics from search engines and wearables can then be melded for "predicative analysis" which is able to project behavior with “a surprising degree of accuracy," despite laws meant to protect medical privacy. Presumably these learnings could be used to make us healthier but they could also be used to deny us treatments or insurance coverage. And while we worry about government surveillance, many of us voluntarily share our thoughts, pictures and intimate details about our lives with Facebook, which then purchases more information about us from third-parties to make sure the ads we see are even more effective. Mikko has noted that Twitter connects our offline data to our profiles through our phone number. So when you share your mobile number for a proactive reason, such as activating two-factor authentication or account recovery, we're also feeding the data beast to make ourselves even more profitable to the sites we use. And then there's Internet of Things, which is coming into your home whether you like it or not. "You will buy whole appliances and you won't even know they are IoT appliances. I mean, you go and buy a toaster and there is an IoT feature... Why would you even need IoT features in a goddamn toaster?" Mikko asks. "But it's going to be online anyway. Why? Because it's going to be so cheap to put it online. And the benefits it creates are not benefits for you, the consumer, they're benefits for the manufacturer. Because now they can collect analytics." Our Freedome VPN team has found that when it comes to connecting with free Wi-Fi, people are willing to give up almost anything -- even their first born. Data. On one hand, prosperity and opportunity. On the other, problems and problems we haven't yet imagined. That's why controlling our personal information matters more than ever. Data Privacy Day -- held annually on 28 January -- is an international effort to get people around the globe to think about the importance of controlling what we share. To mark the day, Mikko will be doing a Reddit IAmA on the day before -- 27 January -- where you can ask him anything and our Freedome VPN team will be in the streets spreading the word about the importance of privacy. To prepare you can read Mikko's recent Q&A session on Quora and feast on this playlist of dozens of talks and interviews he's given: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAChQaySECY?list=PLkMjG1Mo4pKIRUqHj1eUMDqvV5a0o2CoS]

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