What is encryption and how does it work
Almost everyone is now using encryption, often without even realising it. Strong (unbreakable) encryption keeps us safe, it protects our financial transactions, our telephone conversations and instant messages.
It’s protects the identities of oppressed people in countries with limited freedoms and by journalists to communicate with sensitive sources.
Encrytion, in it’s simplest terms, is a way to protect information from unwanted disclosure except where the viewer has special knowledge. It can also be used to verify identity and make sure that the person you are talking to really is that person. (A slightly more comprehensive explanation of how it works is available here – <LINK TO GO HERE>
As more of our lives take place online or via the internet, with the growing numbers of IoT devices (Internet of Things) that control our heating, lighting, home security; strong, unbreakable encryption is vital.
Sadly, governments and their agencies around the world, most notably both the UK governemt and US intelligence agencies are pushing for the weakening of encryption under the guise of preventing crime or protecting us from terrorism. They want to do this by introducing back doors to devices that use encryption, a skeleton key if you will, that would allow them to view private conversations, listen in on phone calls and observe financial transactions.
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to add a security backdoor for just one government or agency; if this is ever done, the genie is out of the bottle – if a backdoor exists it can and will be exploited by everyone. Whilst you may think it is okay for the government to view your messages if you are under a criminal investigation, would you say the same if a criminal organisation was using the backdoor to view your financial transactions? You may not care if the Chinese government snoops on your web traffic, but dissidents in those countries would strongly disagree.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”
What you should do
Whilst preventing terrorism and solving crimes are noble endeavours and are what our governments should be doing, it cannot be at the expense of the security of everyone.
Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Twitter, Facebook and 56 other technology companies have joined together to reject calls for weakening encryption saying it would be “exploited by the bad guys”.
In the UK there are plans to ban strong encryption – it was initally proposed in 2015 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and again in 2016 by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. This is still an ongoing discussion in the Houses of Parliament despite being technologically infeasible, ineffective in any real way, and opposed by many including the Information Commissioner. If this ban were to be introduced it would have a devastating effect on not only the technology sector, but also any sector that stores sensitive information electronically, it would put an enormous target on the back of any data that is stored in the UK.
Organisations like the EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation), the Open Media Group and the OpenRights group are all strong proponents of not weakening encryption and protecting everyone’s rights online – if you can, please support these organisations.