FBI Director wants 'adult conversation' about backdooring encryption

How about f**k off – is that adult enough?


FBI Director James Comey is gathering evidence so that in 2017 America can have an "adult" conversation about breaking encryption to make crimefighters' lives easier.

Speaking at Tuesday's 2016 Symantec Government Symposium in Washington, Comey banged on about his obsession with strong cryptography causing criminals to "go dark" and making themselves harder to catch. Comey said that once the election cycle is over, he will be resuming his push to force technology companies to bork their own products, and this time armed with plenty of supporting documentation.

"The conversation we've been trying to have about this has dipped below public consciousness now, and that's fine. Because what we want to do is collect information this year so that next year we can have an adult conversation in this country," he said, AP reports.

"We want to lock some people up, so that we send a message that it's not a freebie to kick in the door, metaphorically, of an American company or private citizen and steal what matters to them. And if we can't lock people up, we want to call (them) out. We want to name and shame through indictments, or sanctions, or public relation campaigns – who is doing this and exactly what they're doing."

Americans do have the right to a measure of privacy in their own homes, cars, or on their electronic devices, he said. But the government also has the right to invade that privacy when law enforcement feels it has probable cause.

Comey referenced the Apple case, where the FBI tried to force Tim Cook's company to build a version of iOS that could bypass the security systems of an iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorist. The FBI backed down after a third party proved able to get into the handset, and nothing of note was found on it.

But Comey isn't giving up in his quest to introduce a backdoor in encryption systems, or a front door as he prefers to call it. This despite the NSA and the best minds in the crypto business pointing out that it's mathematically impossible to build such an access mechanism that can't be found and exploited by others.

Comey, and others, seem to think that it is possible, despite offering no evidence to support this view. Instead they want to force the technology industry to invent a way to make it possible for them to defeat encryption.

Even supposing such a system was possible and police got a golden key to crypto, there's no guarantee that the method wouldn't leak out. As we saw with the Microsoft Secure Boot fiasco, even the most sensitive golden keys can leak, and a method to break all American crypto systems would be top of the wish list for criminals and foreign powers.

Comey's argument is also predicated on the assumption that criminals will only use American crypto systems. At the last count, two-thirds of the crypto systems out there come from outside the Land of the FreeTM and so would be unaffected.

US tech firms are, of course, very worried about law enforcement's plans. If implemented, any backdoor would kill their sales, both domestically and internationally. American technology sales have already suffered post-Snowden and selling broken crypto would accelerate this decline. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022