Before We Even Know The Details, Politicians Rush To Blame Encryption For Brussels Attacks

from the it's-almost-like-you-have-an-agenda... dept

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You may remember that, right after the Paris attacks late last year, politicians rushed in to demonize encryption as the culprit, and to demand backdooring encryption before the blood was even dry. Of course, it later turned out that there was no evidence that they used encryption at all, but rather it appears that they communicated by unencrypted means. Just yesterday, we noted that the press was still insisting encryption was used, and using the lack of any evidence as evidence for the fact they must have used encryption (hint: that’s not how encryption works…).

So, it should hardly be a surprise that following this morning’s tragic attacks in Brussels that have left dozens dead and many more injured, that encryption haters, based on absolutely nothing, have rushed in to attack encryption again. The first up was Rep. Adam Schiff, who quickly insisted that he had no actual facts on the matter, but we should be concerned about encryption:

?We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks,? Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

?But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks,? he added.

Schiff, of course, is the same guy who just a few months ago was loudly promoting CISA, saying we needed it to protect our privacy from hackers. Of course CISA doesn’t do that. You know what does? Encryption. The very encryption Schiff now wants to blame.

Not one to be left out, Senator Dianne Feinstein jumped in with a thinly veiled statement in support of her supposedly soon to be released bill, mandating backdoors in encryption:

?We must use all the tools at our disposal to fight back,? Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and vice chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday. ?The way to prevent attacks like this is to develop good intelligence and always be vigilant.?

“All the tools” likely means including her plans to break encryption.

And, of course, the many in the press are no help at all. There have been reports that a talking head on NPR blamed encryption this morning, while a NY Times reporter, Rukmini Callimachi — who was the lead reporter on that ridiculous article yesterday insisting that the lack of encryption was evidence of encryption — is tweeting up a storm claiming that ISIS is now encouraging the use of encryption, even though the questionably-sourced document she links to (which is written in English?!?) isn’t actually recommending encryption, but things like Tor and VPNs, which are designed to merely mask your IP address.

It’s like she sees encryption in absolutely anything. Meanwhile, as a number of other commenters have pointed out, if “ISIS brothers” actually follow the advice in that document, it will only likely help them get caught, as a sudden and abrupt change in behavior is a pretty good way for law enforcement to make you a suspect. And, really, encouraging people to jump onto tools like Tor that they don’t understand, but which they think will keep them safe, almost certainly will lead to ridiculously bad implementations that make it easier to spot what they’re doing.

Either way, in the wake of yet another attack we’re left with people who don’t understand and dislike encryption, rushing to demonize it for no good reason at all.

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Comments on “Before We Even Know The Details, Politicians Rush To Blame Encryption For Brussels Attacks”

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74 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

> “But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use
> what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot
> their attacks”

Hello, Rep. Adam Schiff

Does this mean terrists will NOT be using the government mandated, back-doored methods of encryption?

Who actually WILL be using the government mandated, back-doored methods of encryption?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t doubt you’re right… but I do have to wonder about the Federal bureau taking an event that happened in a different country and using it as an example of why they should be allowed to compel Apple to make their devices less secure.

I think the expanded mandate for the FBI to head up domestic terror investigations has led to “investigation creep” where they’ve abandoned federal crimes in pursuit of international thoughtcrime.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Ignorance on display

The ignorant arrogance of US legislators is stunning. They think if they force US companies to put in backdoors, no one will be able to use encryption from any of the other 210+ countries in the world.

Tor, if not used carefully just might not actually protect you. Even Tails has some significant warnings about its use. Anyone actually serious about their or their groups security would already have read those pages, and would not be planning on them protecting anyone.

I bet there are lots more face to face meetings happening.

Joel says:

What TOR is

The Onion Router uses layers over layers of SSL encryption. From each node the next one is contacted over a new encrypted connection through which the previously already encrypted traffic is tunneled.

VPNs almost always use encrypted communication channels to eastablish the network as well.

I am fully on the side of strong encryption but somehow implicitly constraining the word to encryption at rest while excluding encrypted channels for encryption in transit is misleading and casts unfair doubt on the position we represent.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: What TOR is

TOR and VPNs may use encryption, but in the cases referenced here, don’t use it to hide the traffic itself, only it’s origin. Once the traffic gets past the last TOR node or the VPN end point, it’s broadcast in the clear. They’re not designed to hide what you’re surfing, only where you’re surfing from.

Socrates says:

Re: Re: What TOR is

TOR and VPNs may use encryption, but in the cases referenced here, don’t use it to hide the traffic itself, only it’s origin. Once the traffic gets past the last TOR node or the VPN end point, it’s broadcast in the clear. They’re not designed to hide what you’re surfing, only where you’re surfing from.

This is correct. And it have been highlighted by individuals logging their exit nodes and publishing troves of findings because to few know this.

Joel says:

Re: Re: Re: What TOR is

Alright fair point they do not provide encryption end to end.

However, I maintain that it is unhelpful to say “…isn’t actually recommending encryption, but things like Tor and VPNs, which are designed to merely mask your IP address.” when both clearly use encryption and, depending on what protocols you use and where your connection is logged by an adversary, can well make the difference between a cleartext stream and a useless encrypted stream.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bubble Gum

“We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

“But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks,” he added.

In other news…

We do not know yet what role, if any, bubble gum played in these attacks.

But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to chew what they perceive to be the most delicious flavors while plotting their attacks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Were the government to succeed in mandating backdoors in encryption, would the government also be required to use encryption that has backdoors in it? If the mandates specify the government doesn’t get backdoors, does that affect only the Federal government or local government as well? Where does it end?

As I would say to a child, “This is NOT OK!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Were the government to succeed in mandating backdoors in encryption, would the government also be required to use encryption that has backdoors in it?

The last time the government tried to mandate back doors, the plans were to exempt government employees and bankers. When asked why those people people would be exempt and not regular citizens, President Clinton answered that it was because “those people are GOOD citizens”. So there you have it. Government employees and bankers = good citizens. Everyone else = bad citizens.

Peter says:

It's about dodging accountability, not about encryption.

The security agencies have, for all practical purposes, unlimited funds and unlimited rights to do whatever necessary to keep us safe. They should have known where to look,and who to look for, half a year after Paris.

And yet, they failed to protect us. Again, after failing to act on early warnings on the Paris attacks.

Perhaps it is easier for them to bury that topic and talk about encryption instead …

MadAsASnake (profile) says:

And once again we have on clear display a sickening attack that wasn’t thwarted – not in the slightest – by all those haystacks of data. They didn’t stop it. They didn’t even detect it until the bombs were going off. This is what we pay billions in “intelligence” for? Encryption? this is a group whose MO to date doesn’t particularly use it. Not even on the playing field.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And once again we have on clear display a sickening attack that wasn’t thwarted – not in the slightest – by all those haystacks of data. They didn’t stop it. They didn’t even detect it until the bombs were going off.

Maybe not, but you can bet they’ve probably got a pretty good profile of your political beliefs and transgressions. Those “random” tax audits and traffic stops aren’t always as random as parallel construction would make them seem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This. These minor attacks, like Paris, are the work of incompetent amateurs who barely know what they’re doing. Their methods are sloppy, their tactics are questionable, and their results are poor. Yet — even with billions, if not trillions of dollars, with rooms full of supercomputers, armies of analysts, ever-more-intrusive surveillance — governments STILL can’t stop these clowns.

They won’t be able to stop them if encryption suddenly vanishes either.

sigalrm (profile) says:

Lets look at the timelines...

Last Friday, Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the Paris attacks, was arrested in Brussels. He apparently stated, during questioning, that additional attacks were planned.

Last night, additional attacks were carried out. In Brussels.

They had a terrorist suspect- in-hand, being interrogated, and by several accounts cooperating with the authorities that had him in custody – and the attacks still caught authorities unaware.

And the go-to evil technology is encryption?

Anonymous Coward says:

the reason for that is obvious. politicians think they are excluded from surveillance so want to get it enacted on everyone else! that way, as soon as something they did comes to light, they will know what is going to be done and when/how so as to enlighten everyone else of what occurred. even if no encryption was involved, to these politicians it will have been because it gives the excuse of having tougher laws put in place that only apply to ordinary people!!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

because OF COURSE THEY DO

Derailing encryption is not about fighting terrorism. Fighting terrorism is the justification.

Much like Big Media fighting for piracy and IP maximalism is not about fighting pirates, it about controlling the mediums. It’s about keeping people paying per-head-per-viewing.

Crypto allows people to do things out of the perview of the government. That means they lose control. People might think. They might determine that the government is not their friend and does not preserve the best interests of the people.

And this terrifies every official and every rich cigar-smoking bastard down to the last Havana.

So, it doesn’t matter if the terrorists just shouted and used semaphores, the politicos are going to scream encryption.

Of course they will.

Socrates says:

Re: because OF COURSE THEY DO

That is an immensely important distinction. My impression is that many US citizens does not understand how tightly information is controlled in the US. For instance journalists in NRK beta, a technology and test-bed part of the Norwegian state broadcasting, noticed that several factual articles (in Norway) that documented US wrongdoings were inaccessible in USA. They even seemed to not exist. When they were back in Norway they appeared again. This only happened with critical articles. No news station followed up this scandal, even in Scandinavia. The Chinese firewall is better known.

The UK have had equally nasty censure for years now. UK news outlets (including the Guardian) were not allowed to report vital facts about Trafigura

Some of these facts are surprisingly accessible from other jurisdictions like this NRK article about Trafigura

A quote from the documentary:
The British newspaper, The Guardian, has also obtained a copy of the Minton-report, but according to a High Court ruling have until today not been allowed to mention it, report on it or in any way disclose that they have the document.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I don't understand

“so that we can “be vigilant” of people who buy their phones outside of the United States?”

Aah, another innocent. Let me help you. There is no “outside”. It is a myth. A fairy story you might have heard when you were young. It just does not compute. Remember this, for your own good.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

actually, tangent time...

Feinstein is a representative of California, Tech industry is a BIG BIG part of California’s industry, Feinstein *seems* to be trying to kill off the Tech Industry (via bills, inflammatory speech, etc.)

The obvious million dollar question is *WHY* is she trying to kill off a major sector of her business base, and a significant portion of ALL of her other business bases, aside from money of course. I am talking about finances (CC companies, banks, etc.) Aerospace Industry, etc.

of ALL of the top 30 publicly traded companies in Cali for 2011, I can guarantee that ALL of them uses encryption in some form or another, if not outright producing it.

So the question is… Why doesn’t the entire Tech industry, Banking industry, and pretty much all the top companies that uses encryption start running anti-Feinstein ads to get her out of a position of power?

(Note: this is from someone who does not live in Cali and assumes that there are no ads running as such, I could be mistaken though)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: California

I live in San Francisco. Not that that really gives me much more authority to explain things..

We weren’t very fond of Feinstein when she was mayor here.

Boxer and Feinstein have secure positions. The GOP can’t find a moderate among their ranks that can dethrone them without wanting to clear-cut the forests for factories and close down all the abortion clinics, and we Californians like our forests and our abortion clinics.

And they know this so they send token, weak candidates to run against our Senators, and no-one gets elected.

Since they’re already secure and DNC, the DNC doesn’t bother to attack them from the left.

Because frankly, they way, way too conservative (or more exactly, too corporatist) for my tastes, both being IP maximalists and tech idiots.

They’re also pro surveillance, pro-torture*, pro-drone-strike and pro-police-state.

I’d really like someone who was actually against these things.

At least not anti-torture enough to end the CIA Extrajudicial Detention and Interrogation program.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facts

Shut up! Those “facts” just get into the way of the truth )policy(. Besides facts are just one point of viewing things. They might be real but if the public says otherwise those “facts” become lies so you are spreading lies!
Shame on you! How dare you? To question those poor brave and honorable citizens? Because the public knows what is real! They are the people who suffer from those things and because of it they are the ones who we should put our trust in. They did know the truth a while back when we tortured and burned those darn witches and they do know the reality today as it is.
Praise those who believe what is happening and curse them who say killing 40 civilians to burn some money is the same. Because those 40 civilians died by the hand of God trough a missile launched via a drone which got is commands by a warrior of God in a USAF container.

Don’t you hate those religious fundamentalists? 30 dead mimimi, 40 dead and it was the right thing to do. I am so glad we are the good guys!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Yeah, about that...

US torture, drone strikes, disregard of due process, et. al. have kinda ruined my perception that we’re anything close to civilized.

I’m not even sure the Islamic State is really worse, at least they’re pretty straightforward about the atrocities they commit.

We like to hide ours from our own people, so for all we know we’re piling bodies in the prisons.

In fact we are piling bodies in the prisons, the question is whether it’s dozens or thousands.

David Sickmiller says:

Document is clearly recommending encryption

This article claims “the questionably-sourced document she links to isn’t actually recommending encryption”, but the document states:

Encrypt all your jihadies Files

Seems like it’s pretty clearly recommending encryption.

This doesn’t undermine the argument in my opinion, but let’s be straight about the facts.

Pepper Spray (user link) says:

Encryption is not all its cracked up to be

Most of these people do not even understand how encryption works. Yes encryption is extremely hard to crack and makes the data extremely hard to view (without the psk). But if you work from the angle of finding the PSK you can easily “break” the encryption. The whole deal with Apple and not opening the encryption just makes our government look like a joke. You are telling me our national security cannot figure out a way to crack a password that is most likely 8 characters or less?!?! They can copy the contents of the flash storage to a closed environment which can be reset before the wipe occurs allowing them to try all possible permutations against the data with no possibility of destroying the original. We need to higher better security experts to work in these positions not the old-timers who do not understand the tech and take the complete wrong approach in solving what seem to be complex but simple problems.

Barbara says:

Apple v Justice

Children: wake up and smell the advertising in Apple’s grandstanding on the iPhone encryption case. This beats a Steve Jobs press conference, even if he were to give one from some place in the post-life icloud. To paraphrase the seasoned cop’s opinion of locks: they only keep out the good guys. Apple knows that; you know that, even if it’s terrifying to finally admit it.

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