Apple and the FBI recently locked horns over the encryption of one of the San Bernardino attacker’s phones. This follows revelations made by Edward Snowden about the level of state intrusion into our personal communications. While completely separate, both these points highlight the way governments are moving to reduce the use of encryption and examine more personal details. This does not seem to be a pressing concern for the majority of the general public, but it could make eventually make all personal details insecure- a worrying prospect and one that has serious implications for businesses large and small.
What Is Encryption?
Encryption is the translation of data into a secret code and is widely regarded as being the most effective way to achieve data security. In order to read an encrypted file, you must have a key or a password to decrypt it. This field of work stems from cryptography and message coding which was widely used during both World Wars. It is a vital tool for businesses conducting financial and sensitive transactions but there are also growing calls for it amongst consumers. End-to-end encryption means that only the sender and recipient are able to read the message and access its contents.
Why Is the Government Challenging it?
Encryption has hindered some law enforcement efforts. The San Bernardino case is just one of several examples where authorities have been left stumped by these codes. There have also been numerous cases of wiretaps failing and criminals working exclusively on encrypted services. This has led to calls for unfettered access for law enforcement which would require an end to encryption. This could mean online services such as shopping are less secure because general encryption has been weakened. A ‘backdoor’ as some authorities have suggested would create a vulnerability that criminals could easily exploit in order to gain extremely personal information.
There is some hope for security conscious individuals. Messaging app, WhatsApp for example has made a bold move and introduced end-to-end encryption as standard for all of its users. This decision came right in the centre of the battle between Apple and the FBI – a strong statement that WhatsApp won’t bow to pressure from law makers when consumer demand opposes it. No other company has brought encryption to the masses like WhatsApp has. With an outpouring of public support for this move, it could yet signal the start of an insurmountable challenge to the government to terminate its opposition to end-to-end encryption.
This conflict over end-to-end encryption will rage on for some time yet. While the government may not openly admit to wanting to break the system its desire for access will have the same end result.
Do you think end-to-end encryption is necessary? Share your thoughts in the comments.