Top computer scientists and security experts are warning that government proposals to gain special access to encrypted communications could result in significant dangers.
A consortium of world-renowned security experts has penned a report detailing the harm that regulating encryption would cause, writes the New York Times.
Hard encryption — which global authorities are now trying to combat — is a way to mathematically cipher digitally communications and is widely considered the most secure way to communicate online to avoid external snooping.
This follows news last week that British Prime Minister David Cameron made a proposal to ban encryption as a way to “ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate.”
Since then, experts have begun weighing in about the effect of such drastic measures. This includes well-known cryptographer Bruce Schneier, who told Business Insider that such a strong encryption ban would “destroy the internet.”
The new report, which was released today, takes a similarly hard stance. “The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws,” it writes. Not only that, but federal authorities have yet to explain exactly how they planned to gain “exceptional access” to private communications.
The report concludes, “The costs would be substantial, the damage to innovation severe, and the consequences to economic growth difficult to predict.” In short, the experts believe that trying to put limitations on encrypted communications would create myriad problems for everyone involved.
This sort of fissure between security experts and federal authorities isn’t new. In fact, a similar proposal was made by the Clinton Administration in 1997 that also took aim at hard cryptography. Back then, a group of experts — many of whom are authors on this new report — also wrote critically about the anti-encryption efforts.
In the end, the security experts prevailed.
Now, it’s not so certain. FBI director James Comey has joined the ant-encryption brigade, saying that “there are many costs to [universal strong encryption.]”
He and the US deputy attorney general Sally Quillan Yates are scheduled to testify before Senate tomorrow to defend their views, the New York Times reports.
The question now is whether other federal officials will side with people like Comey and Cameron or the group of security experts.
In the paper’s words, creating such back-door access to encrypted communications “will open doors through which criminals and malicious nation-states can attack the very individuals law enforcement seeks to defend.”