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What Cameron Doesn’t Realize: Encryption Keeps Us SAFER

To Mr David Cameron, Prime Minister and person responsible for our (lack of) safety.

This is war – and you know it. A defensive war against those who would, and do, assail us. War against those who seek to undermine our values. War against those who attack us, day after day, relentlessly, on our streets and in our homes.

And amidst this ongoing conflict, you would have us break down the walls of the only fortress protecting us so as to better see our enemies charging.

You call for the private encryption of our personal messages to be undermined, and even qualify it as thoroughly undesirable – for the purpose, you say, of facilitated public protection, and the promise of a safer Britain. It will be none such, but the contrary, should your stance prevail.

The rogues who attacked Charlie Hebdo, the London buses and 9/11 were all already known to Intelligence. You have more means than the mere electronic surveillance of their messages. You are the govenrment. You can access airport records at will. You have CCTV on every major street and transport link. You intercept physical mail. You can bug our hardware. You impose police checks and searches anywhere and anywhen. You monitor bank transfers. You have the legal mandate to pry open or seize property of any private enterprise, and through international agreements, the power to reach even overseas.

I do not doubt that a government can carry out surveillance, nor that it will. Even non-governmental groups can crack highly secure networks, given sufficient determination. Just ask any computer security expert – the first thing they ever teach us is that no system is 100% “unhackable”.

Were I sufficiently deluded I would demand that you stop such mass trawling. But I see no point in such advocacy on my behalf. It will happen whether I wish it or not, with my knowledge or without. For the government to demand that private communications cease to exist outright, in reality, makes it marginally easier for your intelligence services to reap information.

However it makes an unfathomable differece to any others who would (and already try to) get control of us or those we hold dear, whilst driving the poster-criminals away from surveillance’s reach.

You say you want to better monitor terrorists and violent criminals. Would the most dangerous use your government-sanctioned communication tools to operate? No – they would simply switch to other channels of communication and “go dark” once more. Years of your agencies’ efforts to best mine the Internet and otherwise secure communications would surely go to waste – for none but the most incapable “terrorists” would be there anymore, and your agencies will have to play catch up in an entirely new arena. It is astounding that they are there at all, which in fact is a benefit to you.

In the mean time, the rest of us will be fed to the wolves.

In reality, encryption has never protected us from government spying. It has only ever protected us from non-government spying.

The holes already opened up by GCHQ and the NSA (and other lower-profile national security agencies) are already letting in criminal hackers – known in the trade as “crackers.” Computer systems will always have issues, as every computer scientist, engineer and technician knows from day one. We work hard to plug them as soon as we – or others – find them. And yet you bore more holes behind our backs.

The attacks on Sony and the leaks of celebrity photos from Apple demonstrate how easily compromised computer systems can be, even when dutifully guarded.

With mass policy of non-encryption, we open ourselves to ills no government could guard against, no matter how otherwise benevolent it were.

We already have open networks in the form of free Wireless in airports, hotels and cafes, ready to testify to the dangerous absurdity of not encrypting one’s communications. Any computer enthusiast with a modicum of technological education and a standard laptop can snoop the details of anything unencrypted. One needn’t even look underground or seek to circumvent anything for such tools: this is what was shown with the FireSheep debacle that proved that websites badly needed encryption – not to save us from the government, but from simply unscrupulous other network users.

Our devices connect automatically to these networks because we let them: rather than have to remember passwords and type them in conscientiously. We are all ripe for picking. And anyone can setup a network to trick our devices. Making better technology will not solve our desire for convenience, and crackers will always be ahead of the game – it’s what makes them such formidable foes.

Cracks employed by News of the World were already unsophisticated, but without the safeguards and encryptions there would be no need for them – all our communications would be laid bare to anyone who so much as desired to listen in.

Who would be listening? Crooks out for a quick buck perhaps. Set up a little device and listen in to rich investors’ casual discussions face to face or over some “pravate” chatting channel. At the club house, or in a restaurant, or in a hotel bar or elsewhere the likes… Some people wonder how crackers get information on certain transactions… It’s easier than Hollywood lets on…

Who else would be listening? Oh nobody but insurers and marketers, eager to have the first word in negotiations. They know who’s depressive and who’s terminally ill. Up the premiums. And crooks too. They’ll know who’s bought the latest PC, which model from which store. Let’s call them and impersonate a Customer Service representative to con them.

Who else would be listening? Only the local thugs who know how to use the government tapping loopholes to get onto some family’s network – cause their bills to skyrocket by hacking their smart energy metres, cause their fridges to turn off over holidays and everything to spoil, overheat ill-secured sensors and cause fire even as they sleep, browse private files to dig up dirt, monitor their childrens’ movements… and hold the home owner to ransom.

Lovely house and family they had there…. pity if anything were to happen to it.

Who else would be listening? Not to sound alarmist, an an open, unencrypted network would be a boon for predatory paedophiles and other sex offenders who could operate all the more efficiently. For every one paedophile who would no longer be sharing vile pictures through the Internet, a thousand more could spy on any one family out and about one sunny afternoon. Photos of our children shared with our loved ones would be available for anyone to intercept and recorgnize (see how quickly the Chinese “human flesh search engine” can identify a person from casual shots). Our daily habits and patterns would be open to anyone to see, analyze and mine. The kids get home at this time. The parents get back at that time. The parents are out to dinner on Tuesday evening. Interesting information on that couple we spied on in the cafe last Sunday. And if the paedophiles were the ones supplying the laptops and phones… what then? (Yes, we’ve already seen something like this happen.)

Who else would be listening? Maybe the disgruntled neighbour. Maybe the local bullies. Maybe some sect that really has it in for you. Maybe some ill-advised political activist hell-bent on attacking a candidate and any of their supporters.

Mr Cameron, I can’t comment on the rest of your political decisions. I disagree with your policies, but I am not an expert in any of those matters. I don’t like what you’ve done to welfare, I don’t like the Conservatives’ privatization of what I believe to be national infrastructure such as the NHS, I don’t like your government’s stance on immigration, nor how they are undermining education, and I am disappointed that I feel my vote to stay with the Union this past November seems to have come back to bite me. And so forth. Frankly I have not educated myself enough in those areas to properly comment on them. Suffice to say I disagree, and will need to leave it at that.

But I am competent in computing, as can be anybody studious enough. You seem to think cracking is only the capability of those grimly determined – but it is at the grasp of even the most puerile of pranksters. All you have shown is that you persist in ignorance and lack of judgement, from a stance of power and authority – a very dangerous combination.

You would feed us to the wolves to gauge just how hungry they were; and take a cannon your own castle out of spite.

Read more:

[1] Cameron wants nobody to have privacy. http://readwrite.com/2015/01/13/david-cameron-encryption-messaging-apps-imessage-whatsapp-snapchat

[2] Encryption makes us safer. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2010/10/25/firesheep-why-you-may-never-want-to-use-an-open-wi-fi-network-again/

[3] The surveillance state made corporate (and private) espionage worse. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-11/nsa-said-to-have-used-heartbleed-bug-exposing-consumers.html

[4] Letting companies have a know about their users tends to backfire. http://theweek.com/articles/441995/uber-growing-threat-corporate-surveillance

[5] There are people you trust spying on your children in their own bedrooms. http://www.macworld.com/article/1146666/macbook_spycam.html

[6] Why privacy matters. http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20130818120421175

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