A newly released U.S. government study called encryption vital to protecting personal data, according to The Guardian. The leak comes hot on the heels of UK Prime Minister David Cameron's anti-encryption comments.
The study, unveiled in Snowden's cache of documents, was secretly published in 2009 by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, a group that informs the Director of National Intelligence. The report described the global cyber security climate at the time of the report, and described projected threats to the U.S. information infrastructure.
Notably, it called encryption the “best defense” against attacks on private data and observed that computers are often left open to attacks. Because encryption adoption has been slow, hacks cost the world economy roughly US$40 billion a year.
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris, Prime Minister David Cameron called for stronger surveillance powers. In Cameron's eyes, the governments need to “modernize” the law, so the government could better access private communications to thwart terrorists. He promised to crack down on technology companies using encryption, and hopes to enlist President Obama to twist the arms of giant U.S. tech-companies, such as Facebook, to participate.
Cameron said Monday, via Business Insider:
"We want to allow a means of communication between two people which even in extemis with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally that we cannot read? ...My answer to that question is no, we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe."
As we reported earlier, if Cameron followed through with his proposed legislation, increased surveillance could potentially affect Bitcoin transactions. Cointelegraph's Charlie Richards speculates that this legislation might push privacy-minded users towards anonymization tools like DarkWallet.
Security experts have already excoriated Cameron's comments. They note that while the goal of sniffing out terrorists is well-meaning, it doesn't properly take the security and privacy risks into account. Security experts note that back-doors left open for the government would let in “bad guys” too meaning hackers would be able to exploit the same vulnerabilities. The UK Liberal Democrats called Cameron “technologically illiterate.” Forbes writer Thomas Fox-Brewster imagined a bleak 2018 British society with a floundering economy. Companies vanished to other states where encryption was allowed.
The leaked U.S. government report reinforces some of these concerns. Intelligence agencies can't track encrypted communications, including those from terrorists. Therefore, governments often struggle to support encryption. We've seen this in leaked NSA documents that showed how the government paid companies like RSA to leave back-doors for government snoops. However, even a report commissioned by the U.S. government highlights the growing importance of encryption in protecting average people from cyber attacks of all stripes.
For more, read The Guardian's full report.
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