French Police Report On Paris Attacks Shows No Evidence Of Encryption… So NY Times Invents Evidence Itself
from the reporting! dept
Over the weekend, the NY Times ran a big article providing a bunch of details about the Paris attacks from last year, now that the lone surviving member of those attacks has been captured in Belgium. The article is mostly based on a 55-page report put together by French antiterrorism police and given to France’s Interior Minister. Someone apparently gave the report to the NY Times as well. And it does includes some interesting background info, including some previously unknown attack details. It also includes a bit about how the attacks were planned and carried out, with the most salient detail being that it’s pretty clear that the team used burner phones (i.e., phones purchased just for this purpose, for a very short time, and not easily traced back to individuals):
They used only new phones that they would then discard, including several activated minutes before the attacks, or phones seized from their victims.
That’s not all that surprising, of course. People have known about burner phones for ages. But the thing that stood out for me was the desperate need of the NY Times reporters to insist that there must be encryption used by the attackers, despite the near total lack of evidence of any such use. Immediately after the attacks, law enforcement and intelligence officials started blaming encryption based on absolutely nothing. Senator John McCain used it as an excuse to plan legislation that would force backdoors into encryption. And Rep. Michael McCaul insisted that the Paris attackers used the encrypted Telegram app, despite no one else saying that. In fact, for months, the only thing we’d heard was that they used unencrypted SMS to alert each other that the attacks were on, and made almost no effort to hide themselves.
But, amazingly, the NY Times takes evidence of a lack of encryption… to mean there must be encryption:
According to the police report and interviews with officials, none of the attackers? emails or other electronic communications have been found, prompting the authorities to conclude that the group used encryption. What kind of encryption remains unknown, and is among the details that Mr. Abdeslam?s capture could help reveal.
But… that’s not how encryption works. If they’re using encrypted emails, the emails don’t disappear. You still can see that they exist, and the metadata of who sent messages to whom remains. It’s just that you can’t read the contents of the emails. This is bogeyman thinking about encryption, where people think it does something it doesn’t actually do. Sure, it’s possible that the attackers used some sort of secretive way to communicate, but then the issue isn’t encryption, but rather that they figured out how to hide the method by which they communicated. Or, you know, they just talked about stuff in person.
And then there’s this:
One of the terrorists pulled out a laptop, propping it open against the wall, said the 40-year-old woman. When the laptop powered on, she saw a line of gibberish across the screen: ?It was bizarre ? he was looking at a bunch of lines, like lines of code. There was no image, no Internet,? she said. Her description matches the look of certain encryption software, which ISIS claims to have used during the Paris attacks.
OH MY! “A bunch of lines, like lines of code”?!?!?! Must be encryption! Or, you know, Linux. Or some other system that doesn’t start with a graphical user interface. And even if it was encryption, then he wouldn’t be looking at it in encrypted form. To read encrypted messages you decrypt them first. Nothing in this paragraph above makes any sense at all as “proof” of encryption. It just seems like proof of the reporters’ technology ignorance.
It may very well turn out that the attackers used encryption. It very likely will be true in the future that attackers and terrorists will use encryption. But, this crazy moral panic going on these days where anything that people can’t understand “must be encryption!” is reaching insane levels.