There has been a lot of talk about adding backdoors to electronics and secured communications lately. Politicians and intelligence officials say it is the only way to gaurantee we can thwart terrorist attacks. It has gotten to the point where governments are looking to force companies into designing weaknesses in their products. The BBC has a couple of nice writeups; Paris attacks: Silicon Valley in the crosshairs over encryption and Can the government ban encryption.
Now don’t be mistaken, I realize this isn’t an easy issue to deal with. On one hand you don’t want child pornographers, terrorists, or human traffickers to have the ability to hide their digital tracks. There should be a way to lawfully get access to the evidence. If all commercial encryption had backdoors then there wouldn’t be any problems. Get a warrant, request the data through the backdoor, and voila, all secrets are exposed. But how do you guarantee privacy online when all secrets can be exposed?
Some people will say this is fine. They have nothing to hide so they aren’t worried about the police or government having access to their digital life. But the issue isn’t having nothing to hide, it is having the ability to keep your personal life private. Moxie Marlinspike has a great article on Wired.com from 2013 that goes over this exact concept.
This route also has another problem. It assumes that the criminals will knowingly use products that have this insecurity. Why wouldn’t they just use a known secure security algorithm like public key encryption to keep their information private? They could easily use standard communication applications like SMS or email and still encrypt the message before it is sent. The algorithm is simple to implement, anyone with a high school diploma and some basic coding skills can impement it in a matter of a few hours.
So what does this leave us with? How can we thwart criminal activities? Human intel still works. Creating custom malware and viruses to install on their electronics has been a proven method. Realize, once a freedom is lost it is hard to get back; as each piece of privacy is taken we get closer to 1984.