Feeds

Zimmermann defends strong crypto against govt assault

Backdoors are 'worse than futile'

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Website security in corporate America

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

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
'Kim Kardashian snaps naked selfies with a BLACKBERRY'. *Twitterati gasps*
More alleged private, nude celeb pics appear online
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Snowden, Dotcom, throw bombs into NZ election campaign
Claim of tapped undersea cable refuted by Kiwi PM as Kim claims extradition plot
Freenode IRC users told to change passwords after securo-breach
Miscreants probably got in, you guys know the drill by now
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
BitTorrent's peer-to-peer chat app Bleep goes live as public alpha
A good day for privacy as invisble.im also reveals its approach to untraceable chats
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.