FBI Requests Additional Funds to Counter Mobile Encryption

by Matt Klassen on February 15, 2016

fbiFor the last several years the FBI has warned that mobile encryption standards are going too far, as now law enforcement agencies often have no avenue, even with a court order, to access the information on those devices. The concern, by extension, is that when the mobile world “goes dark,” when the FBI loses all ability to access data, it will truly favour the law-breakers, offering a safe haven for terrorists, kidnappers and the like to do their evil bidding. Without access to such data, the FBI has warned in the past, lives will almost certainly be lost.

But so far the mobile world has remained steadfast in its unwillingness to alter encryption standards. Ironclad privacy is a civic right of the modern age, Silicon Valley seems to be saying, and tech companies will do their best to establish and uphold the privacy protections that people are asking for.

So in response the FBI has taken a more traditional tact to combating the growing mobile encryption problem, it has decided to throw a great deal more money at the problem, hoping that millions more dollars will somehow compete with the seemingly endless amount of resources companies are already pouring into creating those unbreakable security protocols.

The fear from law enforcement is that mobile encryption is advancing so rapidly that it won’t be long before the entire wireless world goes dark, where every device used by every person will by default deploy some sort of unbreakable encryption security solution. This doomsday scenario, coined “Going Dark” because of the inability to read the emails of terrorists and other criminals, is rapidly approaching, and the FBI is asking for more money to combat the problem.

According to a Justice Department document, the Bureau is requesting $38.3 million, on top of the $31 million it already spends on such efforts, to help “develop and acquire tools for electronic device analysis, cryptanalytic capability, and forensic tools.”

As mentioned, the funding will be used to “counter the threat of Going Dark, which includes the inability to access data because of challenges related to encryption, mobility, anonymization, and more.”

Now the FBI has not commented on how the combined $69.3 million would be deployed to acquire tools to combat encryption, but you can bet the Bureau is exploring all extant options, including purchasing encryption exploits from private mobile intelligence firms, a tactic it has employed many times before.

That’s not to say that throwing money at the problem is all the FBI is trying to do, but so far its ongoing Congressional campaign to stymie enhanced encryption standards and its appeal to Silicon Valley for voluntary assistance have both come up short, meaning, it seems, that it’s high time to throw a little more money at the problem and see what happens.

Of course, by acquiring tools developing by dedicated encryption breakers the FBI may indeed find the solution it needs to shed some light on the darkening mobile scene; but I would guess any such efforts will be quickly and decisively made obsolete by the next generation of encryption technology.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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