Former NSA director Michael Hayden says that he would not support [FBI] Director [James] Comey’s demands for access, according to a story by Motherboard.
This goes against the “wishes” of the current FBi director and head of the NSA. It is clear to me that if everything is transmitted unencrypted, with weak encryption or with encryption back doors it makes the life of law enforcement easier.
In documents released by Edward Snowden, it is revealed that the U.S. spied on the Greek Prime Minister using “secure” back doors baked into phone switches that the U.S. government forced manufacturers to install as part of the CALEA law.
My guess is that former NSA Director Hayden is aware of many more events where the NSA made use of supposedly secure back doors where that use has not been revealed.
The reality is that there is no such thing as a secure back door. In fact, the only true secret is one where the person has told no one. Even that can be de-secre-fied with non-torture such as waterboarding.
The article goes on to suggest that under Director Hayden’s watch, the NSA was able to retrieve data that they wanted even though they didn’t have a crypto back door. Hayden remembers the failed crypto wars of the 1990s and does not want to repeat that.
Director Hayden, speaking on a panel at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York said that the U.S. is better served by stronger encryption rather than baking in weaker encryption.
My suspicion is that this is a professional opinion, not a personal one – meaning that his agency was able to get around weaker encryption used by foreign countries with relative ease.
And, that also means that if we can do that, so can many counties including China, Russia, Iran and Israel, among others. Director Hayden is smart enough to know that we are better off making it harder for other people than making easier for both them and us.
Whether this means that encryption is easy to get around by a local rural Sheriff’s department – it probably does not. What it probably means is that, when it comes to national security, while encryption slows down the NSA in some cases, it probably rarely stops them.
For example, if they wanted to target someone, all they would need to do is exploit one of the many zero day security holes that they know about but have not reported and use it to take over the target’s computer. At that point, for the most part, encryption is irrelevant because the data is decrypted in the memory of the computer so that it can show it to you.
My speculation is that, as a former NSA Director as opposed to a current one, Hayden has less reasons to lie.
One simple reason for Director Comey and Admiral Rogers to complain about encryption is that even though they assume that they are not going to get a back door, it is a great excuse if they miss something – which they will. They will say that encryption is the reason they missed it – even if that is not strictly true.
My two cents.
Information for this post came from Network World.