Leaked Intelligence Document Calls For More, Not Less Encryption To Protect Companies And Citizens From Cybercriminals
from the and-yet,-everyone-seems-to-be-calling-for-less dept
Everyone from FBI Director James Comey to UK Prime Minister David Cameron is calling for an end to encryption. The FBI is afraid it won't be able to catch criminals if it can't immediately access content and communications. David Cameron is afraid it will be nothing but constant terrorist attacks from here on out if authorities don't have access to "every means of communication."
Considering many of these voices decrying encryption presumably have access to top secret briefings and documents otherwise unseen by the general public, it's rather surprising they've ignored previous advice from intelligence officials to the contrary.
A secret US cybersecurity report warned that government and private computers were being left vulnerable to online attacks from Russia, China and criminal gangs because encryption technologies were not being implemented fast enough.This document comes from The Guardian's stash of Snowden leaks. What it says runs completely contrary to the panicked assertions of officials. It even runs contrary to the NSA's own actions, like its active attempts to weaken NIST standards. The report recommends strong encryption, coupled with multi-factor authentication, which would make data and communications wholly inaccessible to the NSA (and GCHQ, its steady surveillance partner).
The document from the US National Intelligence Council, which reports directly to the US director of national intelligence, made clear that encryption was the “best defence” for computer users to protect private data.
But this recommendation doesn't come from an outside source. It's an intelligence council that reports directly to the head of national intelligence. And yet, the word didn't spread very far. The NSA isn't thrilled with encryption because it keeps what it wants out of reach. Law enforcement has the same "problem." Both have actively worked to undermine encryption for their own aims and both are perfectly willing to open up citizens and companies to outside attacks in order to preserve the status quo.
And it's not just American agencies that have ignored these recommendations. The GCHQ is engaged in the same cognitive dissonance.
Another newly discovered document shows GCHQ acting in a similarly conflicted manner, despite the agencies’ private acknowledgement that encryption is an essential part of protecting citizens against cyber-attacks.Again we see agencies charged with protecting nations walking away from this responsibility in order to pursue their own ends. Sure, some safety may have resulted from the collection of unencrypted communications, but both agencies are willing to compromise corporate hardware and consumer software in order to grab just a little more hay for the haystacks.
The 2008 memo was addressed to the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, and classified with one of the UK’s very highest restrictive markings: “TOP SECRET STRAP 2 EYES ONLY”....
The memo requested a renewal of the legal warrant allowing GCHQ to “modify” commercial software in violation of licensing agreements. The document cites examples of software the agency had hacked, including commonly used software to run web forums, and website administration tools. Such software are widely used by companies and individuals around the world.
The document also said the agency had developed “capability against Cisco routers”, which would “allow us to re-route selected traffic across international links towards GCHQ’s passive collection systems”.
GCHQ had also been working to “exploit” the anti-virus software Kaspersky, the document said. The report contained no information on the nature of the vulnerabilities found by the agency.
You can't make a nation safer by destroying its safety features. There's a bigger picture that these agencies refuse to see -- even when internal guidance puts it front and center. If you weaken protections, seek legislation to prevent encryption, collect and stash exploits and install backdoors in hardware and software, you make the nation's cybersecurity that much harder to maintain. The NSA and FBI both want a piece of the cyberwar action but they want to leave everyone that isn't them defenseless. Over on the other side of the pond, the GCHQ is doing the same thing and it has the support of a Prime Minister who feels no communication should be able to escape the agency's notice.
And behind it all, there are documents touting the protective powers of encryption. But that makes intelligence gathering and law enforcement too difficult, so I guess we'll all have to do without.