App encryption in the dock post Paris attacks

Chris Davies - Nov 17, 2015, 4:28 pm CST
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App encryption in the dock post Paris attacks

Messaging apps with encrypted communication are being criticized for allowing the Paris terrorists a way to scheme while keeping security services out. The apps, including Telegram and others, have been blamed before over how they prioritize the privacy of users above providing access for agencies like the CIA and NSA to dig through chats to spot potential attacks such as those in France last week.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies Global Security Forum 2015, CIA Director John O. Brennan blamed privacy concerns – among other things – as undermining the security work his organization tries to do.

“We should be sharing a lot more information than we are as a nation, but programmatic, technical, and legal challenges – as well as concerns about privacy and the role of government – have hampered progress,” Brennan told the audience.

Exactly what the best possible outcome to that sharing process might look like, the director didn’t say. That didn’t stop him name-checking 9/11, however.

“My hope is that America — ideally, along with our allies — can eventually adopt a comprehensive legal and operational approach to this threat without being forced to by a catastrophic cyber attack,” Brennan said, “in the same way that 9/11 forced our country to integrate its national security assets in a more rational and effective way against terrorism.”

While the CIA director may have been coy, his predecessors haven’t been so circumspect. Speaking to CBS’ Face the Nation this past Sunday, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell preemptively blamed encryption for allowing the terrorists to communicate with each other in was security forces weren’t able to monitor.

“I think what we’re going to learn is that these guys are communicating via these encrypted apps, this commercial encryption which is very difficult or nearly impossible for governments to break,” Morell suggested, “and the producers of which don’t produce the keys necessary for law enforcement to read the encrypted messages.”

A report from the New York Times cited European officials – though anonymously, and with the admission that they had supplied no proof – who claim the terrorists used encryption.

The goal, it would appear, is to either strong-arm app and service developers into handing over backdoor access to communication apps courtesy of “they’re helping the terrorists” bad publicity, or force through legislation that would make such a backdoor mandatory.

Meanwhile, former NSA analyst Edward Snowden has again been blamed for what some officials believe is his significant role in the current circumstances. Had the whistleblower not publicly released documents showing exactly what agencies like the CIA and FBI can – and cannot – do in terms of data monitoring, it’s argued, terrorist organizations might not have known to cover their tracks with encryption.

MORE CIA; ArsTechnica; NYTimes


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