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Government Wants a Safe Way to Access Our Encrypted Data — Is That Possible? 

Dec 4, 2018 by AFP

Birthdays, addresses, credit cards, social security — so much of our personal information is on the internet and stored on electronic devices.

Although it seems a little daunting, having personal information in digital form isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes everyday life more efficient and convenient – not to mention advancements in data encryption and security protocols have increased privacy protections.

Data protection is so robust that federal officials have pressured tech companies to create so-called backdoors to grant only law enforcement the ability to work around encrypted devices.

But doing so would pose significant risk to tens of millions of Americans who rely on cybersecurity.  Technology experts have continued to warn that it’s impossible for backdoors to guarantee access to just good actors. Bad actors will eventually expose any crack in one’s armor.

Nonetheless, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein called for backdoors once again during a cybercrime symposium last week.

“We encourage technology companies to develop ‘responsible encryption’ — effective, secure encryption that resists criminal intrusion but allows lawful access with judicial authorization,” he said.

But what Rosenstein is suggesting is just not technologically possible. The government has already tried.

Examples of failed governmental “backdoors”:

  • Clipper Chip A computer chip backdoor that the Clinton administration endorsed in 1996. Not only did it pose a threat to personal privacy, but a researcher found a flaw in the chip that could be exploited by lawbreakers.
  • EternalBlue– A flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system that the National Security Agency turned into a tool. The tool was leaked in 2017, though, and is now used by bad actors all over the world to infiltrate computers and spread viruses.

There are better ways for law enforcement officials to obtain information that are much less risky. For example, officers can, and do, use warrants. When it’s legally and technologically feasible, large tech companies do comply.

The FBI was able to access one of the San Bernardino shooter’s electronic devices without forcing Apple to build a backdoor (even though the bureau tried).

No matter how good the government’s intentions are, building a back door could have disastrous consequences. It’s a threat to our privacy; it’s a threat to our security.

If we want to keep the bad guys out, what sense does it make to build them a way in?