Trump’s CIA chief pick makes encrypted chat popular again

Chris Burns - Nov 21, 2016, 2:21 pm CST
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Trump’s CIA chief pick makes encrypted chat popular again

Donald Trump’s impending presidency and Pompeo pick for CIA has sent downloads of secure encryption chat apps skyrocketing. According to the makers of the encrypted messaging app Signal, they’ve had a 400 percent growth increase since election day this month. Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder of OWS, makers of Signal, they’ve “never really seen any single event that’s resulted in this kind of sustained, day-over-day interest.” According to Marlinspike, this may be because of fears that Trump’s impending control of “the least accountable surveillance apparatus in the history of the world.”

The folks at MarketPlace suggest that other encrypted chat apps are also seeing increased downloads. One such app is Wickr – another is WhatsApp. Facebook-owned WhatsApp Beta version recently had an update which allowed 2-step verification to log in. Several such apps have seen some debunking and analyzation done by security experts recently, and the results haven’t been pretty.

In July of this year, forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski analyzed WhatsApp and found its encryption to be wanting. Zdzaiarski suggested that while WhatsApp did encrypt messages, it did not delete messages that were sent. In this analysis, he says WhatApp leaves messages open to potential spying and law enforcement perusal.

Telegram was recently found to be slightly less secure than it should be. Cryptographer research found that Telegram was creating their own encryption algorithms, quite open to 3rd-party break-in. This set of codes came from mathematician Nikolai Durov – which might be comforting for some users.

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A research paper from the University of Oxford, Queensland University of Technology, and McMaster University suggests that Signal is truly secure. Their paper suggests that their security protocol analysis proves that “several standard security properties are satisfied by the protocol, and we have found no major flaws in its design, which is very encouraging.” For more information on this subject, see the International Association of Cryptologic Research for the paper “A Formal Security Analysis for the Signal Messaging Protocol” by authors Katriel Cohn-Gordon et. al published in October of 2016.

Fear for security in private messaging under President Trump may be well founded. On the 18th of November 2016, Trump announced his nomination of Representative Mike Pompeo to take control of the CIA. In an op-ed by Pompeo on the 3rd of January, 2016, Pompeo suggested the following.

“Forcing terrorists into encrypted channels, however, impedes their operational effectiveness by constraining the amount of data they can send and complicating transmission protocols, a phenomenon known in military parlance as virtual attrition,” said Pompeo. “Moreover, the use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag.”

“Moreover, the use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag.” – CIA chief pick Mike Pompeo

Pomeo went on to write, “Still, the U.S. must recognize that encryption is bringing the golden age of technology-driven surveillance to a close, which necessitates robust human intelligence. Pursuing every lead on terrorist activity would require a substantial increase in FBI funding and personnel—perhaps double or triple the number of field agents capable of tracking suspects.”

The full op-ed by Pomeo can is available at House.gov‘s Mike Pompeo page. There the representative of the 4th district of Kansas speaks up about how “a coherent new approach” will be needed for surveillance in the United States now that “post-9/11 measures have been weakened or discarded.”

It’s clear that United States citizens do not support expansion of the USA’s several intelligence agencies. It’s also clear that Donald Trump does not feel the same way, given his choice of Pompeo to lead the CIA. As Pomeo wrote earlier this year, “What’s needed is a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.”


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