Feeds

Zimmermann defends strong crypto against govt assault

Backdoors are 'worse than futile'

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

Strong cryptography does more good for society than harm and placing backdoors in encryption products to allow law enforcement access to plain text messages would be "worse than futile", encryption guru Phil Zimmermann told The Register today.

Zimmermann, the creator of the popular email encryption package PGP, told us that reversing the policy of allowing strong cryptography "under the terrible emotional pressure" created by the September 11 atrocities would be a "mistake".

The possibility that terrorists might use potentially unbreakable encryption was considered when legislation on ecommerce was formulated in the 1990s, and it recognised that the need to protect ecommerce came before law enforcement concerns. Encryption products with backdoor access are inherently less secure.

"I'm not insensitive to the downside of the technology" said Zimmermann. "But if you impose controls on encryption, the bad guys won't use products featuring backdoor cryptographic access."

Like Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security, Zimmermann argues that the ability of law enforcement to read anyone's email is unlikely to help the authorities to prevent terrorism. For one thing, Zimmermann (or us for that matter) haven't seen any evidence that the September 11 hijackers used encryption.

Zimmermann thought that investigative tools, conventional policing and (not least) the ability to translate documents in Arabic would be a better focus for counter-terrorism efforts. Mass surveillance through the ability to tap anyone's email isn't the answer.

"Governments are not making a case for encryption controls, because they are not making use of the intelligence they already have," said Zimmermann, who said a convincing case that encryption control would have averted disaster is yet to be made.

Last month, the Washington Post carried at article which incorrectly reported Zimmermann was "overwhelmed with feelings of guilt" over the use of PGP by suspected terrorists. Zimmermann has written a response to this article, which you can read in full here. He believes the misrepresentation of his views in the Washington Post article was the result of an "honest misunderstanding" by the paper. ®

Related Stories

Bruce Schneier on crypto, the FBI, privacy and more
Americans want Uncryption
Broader surveillance won't prevent terrorism -Schneier

External Links

Philip Zimmermann's home page

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
Experian subsidiary faces MEGA-PROBE for 'selling consumer data to fraudster'
US attorneys general roll up sleeves, snap on gloves
Oz bank in comedy Heartbleed blog FAIL
Bank: 'We are now safely patched.' Customers: 'You were using OpenSSL?'
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.