Brett's Blog

Just some ramblings.

Barking up the Encryption Tree. You're doing it wrong.

Barking up the Encryption Tree.  You're doing it wrong.

There always comes a time when an obscure, yet important concept, leaves the technical world and enters the main stream.  Recovering deleted files was one of those where we pretty much knew all along not only that it can be done, but that we have been doing it all along. The Snowden releases were another aspect of ‘yeah, we knew this all along, but the GFP (general f’ing public) was oblivious.

Encryption is just the most current ‘old’ thing to make the limelight.  Whenever something like this happens, there are ton of people ringing the end-of-the-world bells, clamoring that national security will be lost, and personal freedoms take a back seat to everything.  It happens all the time and when it happens, there is a fire to make new laws on top of thousands of other laws, in which the promise of better safety and security is as strong as a wet paper bag holding your groceries on a windy and rainy day.

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Legally, it is super easy to ban, control, and/or regulate encryption. A stroke of the pen with or without citizen oversight can make it happen quickly and painlessly.  One signature on the last page of a law that is a ream in size is all it takes.

Practically, it is impossible to completely eliminate or control or regulate encryption.  The only thing laws will do is restrict the sale of encryption products by corporations.  Encryption exists in the minds of mathematical practitioners and can be recreated over and over again. You can't blank out someone’s brain (I hope not…).  Encryption is available everywhere on the Internet, from software programs that are FREE and OPEN SOURCE to download and even in TOYS that can be bought off Amazon.com.  These 'toys' work by the way.

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The four corners of the Apple v FBI encryption debacle

The four corners of the Apple v FBI encryption debacle

If only the FBI had picked a case where the issue was clear cut…that would make this encryption issue so much easier.

  1. The FBI doesn’t want Apple to simply “unlock” the phone.

Apple (and just about every other high tech company) has been unlocking devices and allowing access to data for law enforcement for decades.  That’s not the issue here.  The FBI wants the encryption to be broken. They want software to be rewritten or written that compromises security features. That’s a lot different than just unlocking a device.  That request breaks security.  Worse yet, it sets a precedent.  Law enforcement knows about precedent setting laws. Sometimes it is good, but sometimes it is not.

  1. It’s not the end of the world if encryption is broken.

Our lights will still turn on. Cars will still run.  Kids will still be able to go to school.  However, online payment systems will be as protected as a wet paper bag, secure communications will be as secure as Windows 3.1, and anything you send electronically is fair game to hackers (and government).  But don’t worry. If encryption is banned or broken, there will still be those able to use encryption (hint: one is government and the other is not law-abiding citizens).

  1. “Terrorist will Go Dark” is the best marketing ever created by government. 

The only time terrorists are not operating in the dark is when they use social media in the open, print terrorism training manuals (which are then posted online), and killing people in the open.  Plus, they still have to drive, fly, walk, eat, sleep, talk, go to the doctor, read a book, watch TV, and surf the Internet.  Terrorist and criminals have all the faults of ‘regular’ folks like complacency, laziness, incompetence, and bad luck when they plan and commit terrorist acts.  I've published two books on catching criminals (and terrorists) with online and forensic investigations.  You can put both books in the hands of a terrorist and the methods to find and catch them will still work.  "Going dark"? If a criminal or terrorist can do all the things needed to carry out their devious plans in encrypted emails ONLY, their plans are going to stink.  Planning an attack or conspiring to commit a crime requires way more than sending encrypted emails.  Working undercover in criminal organizations did teach me a thing or two in how it really works and how they really think and plan.

  1. You have nothing to hide, so what’s the big deal?

The government claims that since you cannot build a house that is impenetrable, you should not have use of encryption that can’t be broken.  Well..if I could make my home impenetrable, you bet I would. If I could buy a safe that was unbreakable, I would.  They just don’t exist.  It’s not that I have anything illegal to hide in a safe, but I don’t want anyone to steal what I have.  It’s not that I have anything top secret in an email, but I just don’t want strangers reading what I am sending to a friend, or to a business colleague.  The point is NOT having something to hide, but rather, NOT hanging my underwear in the front yard on a clothesline for anyone to see or steal (that is, if they wanted to steal my undies…).

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