Last month the Australian government suggested they might require tech companies to provide back doors into their systems to help law enforcement use those back doors to catch bad guys. Apple immediately dispatched people to go talk with them about it. Apple’s stance has been that such back doors don’t help catch bad guys and just make the rest of us less secure. Is that really true?
In the blog post Smartphone Encryption is a Red Herring, I pointed out the folly of requiring an encryption back door for the Good Guys to use. So the question arises- “What can be done? If we don’t want a global encryption back door that can be used by anyone, can we still track the Bad Guys?”
The answer is yes. There are plenty of options that don’t require a global back door. I’m not passing judgment on whether these are inherently good or bad options, just that they are available when there is a reason to track a Bad Guy.
As the Founder and CEO of a software company that makes a development tool for mobile platforms, as well as for desktop and web, I have a lot of experience with encryption. The current controversy over encryption is really important to me. During World War II, the Germans created a way of sending encrypted messages to commanders in the field. The device came to be known as an Engima machine. It looked like a typewriter but had an encryption key that changed a message into unreadable noise. That message could only be decoded if you knew the key used to encrypt it. The Allies worked very hard to get their hands on one of these devices so they could learn how it works and be able to decrypt the messages and know what the German military plans. Ultimately the Allies figured it out and it helped them win the war. If this has peaked your curiosity, check out the movie U-571 (a fictional account of the effort to obtain an Enigma machine) and The Imitation Game about the team that figured out the encryption key.