Many of you have heard James Comey, director of the FBI, saying that they need to get rid of encryption – the Internet is going dark and pedophiles and terrorists will be able to do whatever they want undetected.
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University is throwing some cold water on that claim and what they say seems to make sense.
First, for the most part, terrorists are not smart enough, apparently, to use the encryption that exists. Right after the Paris attacks there were some stories that the terrorist were using encrypted text messages. Then it turned out that it was not true.
What the report says is that the intelligence agencies will just move their surveillance from messaging systems that may be encrypted to Internet of Things devices, for example. Devices with cameras and/or microphones. Assuming they aren’t already doing that – I suspect that they are.
Take a webcam, smart TV or even a baby monitor. Assuming you have one of these in your home, when was the last time you patched it? Probably never.
There was a big stink a while back with smart TVs listening in to the conversation in the room. Maybe it is off by default. Maybe not. What if the spies just happened to turn it on? And listen in.
And there are still plenty of web sites that don’t offer encryption. Remember encryption hurts advertisers who want to know what you are doing. If the traffic is encrypted, they might not be able to listen in and serve you those wonderful ads.
And, we have already seen situations where people have turned on webcams on laptops and microphones on cell phones to spy on people. You may remember a few years ago Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf was in the middle of a sextortion plot when a kid at her school hacked her laptop and took compromising pictures of her. He then tried to extort money in exchange for getting the pictures back. Unfortunately for the extortionist, she went to the FBI instead and he went to jail. She went public to bring attention to the issue. If teenagers can do it, then spy agencies can. And if they can’t, they will just hire those teens.
While this is still a new area, you can count on that intelligence agencies – ours and others – are looking at how to take advantage of these things. And from what I can tell, it is not very hard.
So don’t be so quick to say that we should get rid of encryption so the spies can listen in. If they can, so can the teenagers. And hackers in China.
Information for this post came from SC Magazine.