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Render’s Rant: Crypto and Law Enforcement

If law enforcement can get in, everyone else can too.

Encryption is often labelled as the last refuge of criminals an near-do-wells by law enforcement and other authorities. They often conjure up ticking time bomb scenarios that almost seem to be plot devices from the TV show ’24′ to justify its negative image. The prevailing logic is that if you are not doing anything bad, you should have nothing to hide if law enforcement comes knocking. Indeed, I run across many articles such as this one from physorg.com that talks about a research paper by UK and US researchers that states once a drive is encrypted, law enforcement is pretty much SOL. They go on to state that law enforcement needs to do more to research ways to subvert encryption on drives.

So modern encryption techniques can easily thwart law enforcement efforts to read data from seized computers. I say that’s a good thing. I’m glad that with some effort on my part, I can be reasonably assured that my data will remain protected even from the best efforts of law enforcement (short of me using a poor passphrase or doing something stupid).

Now, the common reaction to this is that I am anti-authoritarian or up to no good. Far from it. My viewpoint is that if modern crypto techniques are capable of stopping law enforcement, they should be able to stop most everyone else as well because if law enforcement can get in, everyone else can too.

Protecting data today is of paramount concern. In this digital economy, information is currency and has immense value. Protecting that is more important than ever because on the internet, you are 100 milliseconds away from every jerk on the planet. On a sheer technical level, there is no difference between what techniques law enforcement can use to access data and someone else with less honourable intentions (law enforcement is even more hamstrung due to privacy laws, etc). Television and movies always seem to depict that law enforcement having some special tool to bypass security on computers. Well, thanks to the internet, any such tool that gets created for law enforcement is usually available online in very short order to anyone with a search engine. Such a thing happened with Microsoft’s Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor which was leaked not long after its creation and distribution to law enforcement.

The phrase “You should have nothing to hide” is often used in these situations to vilify encryption that can thwart law enforcement, but I usually add “…But I don’t have everything to share either”. It’s my data and I want to ensure it stays that way. If protecting my data inconveniences law enforcement, I am fine with that and so should everyone else.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ecrypt or its directors.

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