On the subject of encryption that’s getting so much press, one of my friends asked me what the PM was thinking. While we don’t actually call each other up and thus I have no idea what’s she’s thinking at any given moment, I may have an idea of how she’s thinking:
Simply put I suspect it’s a call for options. When you come up against an intractable problem you begin with an impossible answer. It’s an old methodology. One that most of us were taught in school because we grew up before we could Google for everything. To get people out of their comfort zone you have to push them in unreasonable directions. I expected various technology groups to come up with options but so far all we have is people screaming and making a lot of noise.
One of the best ways to stop insurgents operating in this or any country is to disrupt communications – that’s hard to do because of encryption.
Encryption is the mainstay of much of geopolitics, commerce and humanity from the dawn of the common era. It’s is a boon and a curse. Over the last fifty years we have become extremely dependent on it and its usefulness. However, all these technologies of today were invented in isolation from reality in a past sure of the goodness of all men.
The problem is that those charged with developing these protocols have become used to the constraints of the technology and we need to think beyond them. At one time these technologies were the privilege of the developed world. However as ubiquitous technology opens the doors to more and more people our enemies use these techniques against us. The answer so far from the technology community is “it can’t be done”, where “it” refers to back doors in encryption. That’s not an acceptable answer because it’s not addressing the question.
When the government drafts an outrageous bills it’s looking for constructive responses. It’s asking for more effort from the subject matter experts to evaluate the real objectives.
The very idea of encryption is because we don’t trust anyone. Thus it’s impossible to accept that we should allow those who work against us to use our own technology against us.
While the ultimate decryption key is a sharp knife to a nerve cluster, that kind of behavior applied wholesale leads to a dark and dismal future and isn’t always a viable option. We’re still waiting for our technology experts to come up with an answer but many seem so enamored with their toys they can’t see past them.
Encryption is a tool.
A tool is used to execute an answer to a question.
The question is Security.
There’s an interesting blog post by Mythic Beasts on why encryption is vital. They seem to be missing the point. Everyone knows encryption is vital to the continued economic deliverable of the Internet as well as basic technology security. While this blog post is an obvious political statement, we were rather hoping for options. Turning around and telling the wider society that the cat is out of the bag and that’s just tough is a stupid and arrogant thing to do. We’ve unleashed this double edged sword and we can’t put it back in the sheath but we must have more of an answer if we’re not to look like complete idiots to the rest of society. Like a child that spills their milk but just pouts and won’t clean it up.
When we look for an unreasonable answer this kind of response isn’t wan’t we’re expecting from people who should know better how to handle intractable problems.
So far there’s been little option provided which seems to suggest everyone is happy with the knife and nerves option.
Which is dumb.
So here, in clear and plain terms, is the question:
Given that encryption is easy to acquire and utilize, given our enemies have the access to same technologies as us, what are the options available to our society to ensure we are able to disrupt encrypted command and communication channels our enemies use whilst maintaining our freedoms to use it?
We all know we can’t put the cat back in the bag. I refuse to believe that a trillion dollar discipline such as ours can’t come up with some feasible answers that don’t involve the road to perdition.
If this is too tough a question for us, perhaps we’re not really worth the fuss.