ITIC Resists Kneejerk Cries for Weakening Mobile Encryption

by Matt Klassen on November 26, 2015

For several years now law enforcement agencies and politicians around the world have been warning about the potential dangers of the ironclad, unbreakable encryption standards currently deployed on mobile devices. Now in the wake of the devastating terror attacks in Paris earlier this month, those same voices are once again calling for encryption standards to be weakened in order to help police and intelligence services thwart potential terrorist attacks in the future.

Such cries in wake such an unthinkable disaster truly come as no surprise, as similar concerns (some justified, many not) are being raised in other areas as well, including immigration, foreign policy, foreign aid, and the international efforts to thwart extremist groups around the world.

But according to the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), a policy group that represents practically all major tech companies, such kneejerk measures will ultimately be counterproductive, stating that weakening security encryption standards “does not make sense”.

Now as much as you would expect security, law enforcement and politicians to use the Paris attacks as a rallying point for their own encryption agenda, it is equally as expected that tech companies who rely on such unbreakable encryption standards to deliver on security promises to corporate and private customers to defend their actions as well.

According to a statement released by the ITIC, a group that counts Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung and numerous others among their membership group, the difficulty in weakening encryption standards to aid the “good guys” in fighting terrorism is that it creates more vulnerabilities that could be exploited by the “bad guys.”

Such efforts “would almost certainly cause serious physical and financial harm across our society and our economy…Weakening security with the aim of advancing security simply does not make sense,” said the ITIC.

Simply put, the more backdoors tech companies add to their mobile hardware and services, the more points of entry that can be exploited by cybercriminals, and subsequently the more risk we, as a predominantly digital society, incur. In a way, it’s a dark numbers game, with the risks associated with not thwarting the terrorists on one side of the ledger, and the risks posed to our entire digitally-based society (at least as the ITIC puts it) on the other.

According to law enforcement though, the fact that this data on most mobile hardware is inaccessible gives terrorists around the world a safe haven for communication, taking away a vital tool in the ongoing efforts to combat terrorism. But of course revelations regarding the unlawful surveillance activities by government agencies were what prompted tech companies to bolster their encryption efforts to begin with…but I digress.

As the ITIC states, the current encryption standards are necessary to preserve safety and security every day, and while law enforcement agencies may promise that backdoors will only be used in certain lawful cases to thwart security threats, we already know that’s not true, meaning that if we want to maintain privacy and security for the good guys, it will invariably extend to some of the bad guys as well.

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