James Comey Offers Up Half-Assed Apology For Being Such An Asshole About Encryption

from the still-mostly-an-asshole dept

Former FBI director James Comey's move to the private sector has been… well… annoying, if we're honest. After being booted by President Trump for allegedly failing to pledge his fealty to the Oval Office throne, Comey has become a hero of the so-called Resistance. Those lionizing Comey as some sort of truth-to-power speaker seem to have forgotten he ignored everything ever about pre-election propriety to announce his reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server, and his years spent trying to undermine encryption.

You can take a man out of the FBI, but you can't take the g-man out of the man. Comey may be as unimpressed as many of us are with the current White House leadership, but that only makes him somewhat relatable, not some hero molded from the fires of the long tradition of reshuffling agency leadership with every peaceful transfer of power.

Comey will speak to whoever will listen and/or publish his thoughts. He recently spoke at a conference and offered up his limited apologies for the War on Encryption he waged following the San Bernardino shooting.

As apologies go, it isn't one. Comey says the only error he made was being a bit too aggressive when seeking to undermine the security of millions of device users. (h/t Riana Pfefferkorn)

Comey said it was "dumb" to launch the encryption debate by loudly criticizing companies for seeking encryption that would prevent law enforcement access even with a warrant. "I would do that differently if I had the chance," he said at a conference hosted by the Hewlett Foundation last week.

Beyond that, Comey wouldn't have changed much. And his stance is still firmly anti-encryption. Sure, it sounds like he thinks encryption is important, but the only version he'd be willing to live with if he were still running the FBI would be a version no one would trust.

Comey says, "you could build a key that sits with the U.S. government, a key that sits with the maker of that device and a key that sits with a non governmental agency" and a judge could order these keys to be combined to grant access to the data. He argued such a model could still be built despite widespread criticism from technologists who think such a solution would be impossible or insecure.

This proves Comey still unwilling to be the adult in the room, even as he repeated his assertion that it's all he really wants: an "adult conversation." Plenty of adults have spoken, contradicting Comey's fervent, but unfounded, beliefs that compromised encryption is still secure encryption.

Comey says it's time for the U.S. to have an "adult conversation" about what's at stake as more and more devices and services are encrypted. He warns that "broad swaths" of American life are now occurring out of the reach of law enforcement, and he's worried that the public isn't talking enough about the implications that could have for society.

Whatever. As far as I can tell, law enforcement is doing just fine. The stuff that's encrypted doesn't appear to be much of a problem. The FBI is having no problem radicalizing troubled youths into DOJ prosecution fodder. The ATF is still running stash house stings, turning poor people into federal inmates for thinking about robbing a fake drug stash house of its nonexistent drugs. The DEA is still spending a great deal of time looking for cash, rather than drugs. And local law enforcement is doing the same thing, concentrating on asset forfeiture, SWAT team raids, and talking people into having sex with officers pretending to be 14-year-old girls. Not really seeing the problem encryption poses for the law enforcement in any of these endeavors.

Comey isn't here to speak truth to power or expound on the virtues of the rule of law. He isn't even truly apologetic for his heavy-handed anti-encryption rhetoric over the past few years. He wants people to believe he's a paragon of virtue, thanks to his unceremonious ouster. But he's still the same guy who used to run the FBI and he still has the same goals. Getting fired hasn't made him a better person and it sure as shit hasn't made him a hero.

Filed Under: computer security, doj, encryption, fbi, going dark, james comey


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 9:42am

    Comey says, "you could build a key that sits with the U.S. government, a key that sits with the maker of that device and a key that sits with a non governmental agency" and a judge could order these keys to be combined to grant access to the data.

    Does every country in the world get their own set of three keys, or do they all use the same 3 keys?

    How long would it be before the NSA and CIA had their own copies, or before every cop and government agent had access to the keys?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 9:58am

      Re:

      The key(s) would be up for sale on the dark net about two weeks before the government got theirs.

      The day before the government got their set, the complete set would be all over every bit torrent site out there.

      Human nature.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 1:19pm

        Re: Re:

        More like two hours. I've seen some of the decryption software these people write. It's frightening how quickly they can punch through a lot of "government grade" encryption.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 23 Apr 2019 @ 3:07am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "It's frightening how quickly they can punch through a lot of "government grade" encryption."

          To be fair that usually has less to do with the encryption algorithm being weak in any way.

          But government's approach to security will always be to make a vault no unauthorized person can ever get into - then handing said authorization to a million contractors because they couldn't afford to train a million 007's.
          This literally happened. Edward Snowden was one of them, and although his motive was patriotism, there must be quite a few more who instead quietly decided to sell the information to unscrupulous 3rd parties.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      And there would be one key to rule them all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 9:43am

    Thank You

    Too many people are just "well he hates trump, so he's awesome"... that is the problem with identity politics... too many people will glorify a horrible man just because he stuck it to an even more horrible man... It's like giving Stalin a Nobel Peace prize because he fought Hitler.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:20am

      Re: Thank You

      I'm not sure what "identity politics" has to do with anything, but yeah, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a fallacy that far too many people seem to fall for.

      It's entirely possible to simultaneously believe that (1) Comey is a snake and (2) Trump's decision to fire him over the Russia investigation was obstruction of justice. There's no contradiction between those two beliefs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 9:53am

    FBI: Police key!
    EFF: NGO Key!
    Judge: Judicial Key!
    Apple: Manufacturer key!
    Ma-Ti: Heart key!

    BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED, I AM...

    EASILY-COPIED MASTER DECRYPTION KEY!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:03am

    If and when quantum computing comes around, it's going to be a hoot.
    Previous encryptions will be broken.
    But new ones based on quantum computing will be unbreakable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:18am

      Re:

      Nah, that's most of the sub-plot to Neuromancer.

      Encryption will simply switch to Encoding for items that actually REQUIRE secrecy. PITA, but compared to current steganography use, it's easy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:51am

      Re:

      "quantum computing will be unbreakable"

      Look out for icebergs

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 1:22pm

      Re:

      You're cute. Quantum encryption isn't unbreakable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 1:41pm

        Re: Re:

        Close enough, at least at first. Encryption is one of those things that will escalate forever at the rate older algorithms are broken.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2019 @ 8:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It is more than simply "breaking" old algorithms.

          As computer speeds increase, the time it takes to brute force an algorithm decreases. There is a point at which it takes longer to break the encryption than the usefulness of the data and many try to stay ahead of this.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 23 Apr 2019 @ 4:14am

      Re:

      "But new ones based on quantum computing will be unbreakable."

      Existing encryption algorithms are already unbreakable. Brute-forcing a 128-bit twofish is already beyond any calculation power this side of star trek super-science.

      Every decryption to date has been due to weak passwords, passwords being revealed in whole or in part because of shoddy transmission/verification procedures, encryption compromised by third-party software or processes, etc.

      A cheap 128-bit cipher and appropriate password protections would have seen Sony's customer database secured.
      Instead they chose to link said database to whether a person had or had not developer access to the PS3. With predictable results. The NSA had the highest security achievable on paper. Shame they forgot to protect their consultant computer software at root level and decided to hire a million untrained civilian contractors to handle the suddenly very unsecure data.

      Quantum computers won't assist much in breaking encryption and that game will not change much, except that bruteforcing a single key will take thousands of years rather than billions.

      There will be no magic wand to shift the paradigm that computer security can still achieve only two out of the three goals of economy, convenience, and security.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Peter (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:25am

    Or maybe ...

    ... the FBI should stop wasting resources on meddling with presidential elections or setting up bogus terrorists.

    And do more good old fashioned police work. Talk to people, collect evidence.

    Instead of inventing some "risks", dreaming up some scenarios - and then surveilling the heck out of everybody and their grandmother in a desperate attempt to pick up some dirt to throw around.

    Instead of dreaming up scenarios where just possibly a suspect might have written and saved a detailed plan of their crime with all the evidence for a conviction on an encrypted smartphone. (A point that hasn't gotten much attention yet: The Mueller-investigation just concluded officially that Comey's idea about Russian interference has been a ginormous waste of time and money. The correct course of action would have been to fire Comey for incompetence and treason when he started interfering with the election campaign.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Drunk Uncle Sam, 18 Apr 2019 @ 10:53am

      Re: Or maybe ...

      Is that your take away from all this?
      Oh well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 19 Apr 2019 @ 5:22pm

      Re: Or maybe ...

      "The Mueller-investigation just concluded officially that Comey's idea about Russian interference has been a ginormous waste of time and money."

      So you're taking the Trump admin approach here? Just state the exact opposite of what the report actually concluded?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      SA C.P. Distributor, 21 Apr 2019 @ 8:58pm

      Re: Or maybe ...

      Haha. Good comedy. I unflagged your post expecting "Hitler!" screeched loudly by rabid Hitler creating zionists, but found this instead:

      The ADL/SPLC/Techdirt/Israeli Squad 3200/lashon hara speech assassins flagged and deplatformed you for stating the obviousšŸ™ƒ

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 11:46am

    Nothing like willful ignorance/playing the idiot

    Comey says it's time for the U.S. to have an "adult conversation" about what's at stake as more and more devices and services are encrypted.

    The 'adults', of which he is not counted as a member based upon his pigheaded refusal to act like one, have had the conversation, and time and time again they've said he's wrong. That he doesn't like the answer does not mean it isn't the answer.

    He warns that "broad swaths" of American life are now occurring out of the reach of law enforcement, and he's worried that the public isn't talking enough about the implications that could have for society.

    Indeed, what a horror that people enjoy some gorram privacy, and the police can't look through everything and anything on a whim. Again he pretends that people just aren't talking about it hard enough, when it fact they are talking about it, and consider privacy and having secure devices a better option than no privacy and crippled security.

    He's not only dangerous and willfully ignorant, he's also grossly dishonest and/or delusional in just dismissing anything that doesn't agree with him, pretending that the only possible reason that people don't agree with him isn't because he's dead wrong, it's because they haven't thought about it enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rog S., 21 Apr 2019 @ 9:15pm

      Re: Nothing like willful ignorance/playing the idiot

      He warns that "broad swaths" of American life are now occurring out of the reach of law enforcement

      Its another way of saying ā€œculture us veering away from Jewish-christian narrativeā€ and thus, cannot be manipulated and controlled by the mass delusion of religion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Darkness Of Course (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 12:07pm

    So, the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

    The play was a disappointment as well? Oh, too bad.

    Well, it's not like its new subject matter and the second act certainly fell apart. I doubt anyone stayed through to the end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2019 @ 6:01pm

    Stupid is as stupid does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SA C.P. Distributor, 21 Apr 2019 @ 8:49pm

    re: Comey as Vatican mouthpiece

    As if distributing child pornography all over the globe wasnt Vatican enough, James Comey also quoted theologian-cum-Alcoholics Anonymous guru Rienhold Niehbur after Trump kicked his double dipping sectarian ass out of Americas Political Police.

    As I recall it, Niehbur is famous for creating/co-opting culture with the idea of inserting "Christ in culture" using nefarious, occulted means.

    Like, for example, distributing child pornography to all four corners of the earth,so that all the Virgin Marys can be saved; saved by all the usual suspects....saved from the clutches of manufactured terrorists...saved by them....I mean, whoever "they" are....

    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/a-few-theories-about-why-james-comey-migh t-call-himself-reinhold-niebuhr-on-twitter

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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