The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been turning many heads the past few years over its controversial surveillance program. But recently, as reported by CNN Money, retired four-star general and former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, made headlines for suggesting that the government should not end private data encryption.
Current FBI Director James Comey has criticized tech companies such as Google and Apple for helping terrorists “go dark.” He specifically criticized the practice of giving customers the only key to unlock their devices and personal chat history. Comey wants these tech companies to retain keys so that devices could be accessed through a backdoor, pending a court warrant.
While speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Miami Beach, Hayden said, “I disagree with Jim Comey. I actually think end-to-end encryption is good for America.”
There is some consensus among America’s tech professionals and academics that data encryption protects everything by keeping everyone out, including criminals and foreign spies. Denying the U.S. government access to “backdoors” not only protects individuals from a variety of threats, but it also could enable the U.S. government to better protect itself from foreign cyber-attacks.
Last October, The Wall Street Journal reported that CrowdStrike Inc., a cybersecurity firm, warned that its customers in the technology and pharmaceutical industries had faced unsuccessful intrusions from Chinese-linked hackers. And last September, as reported by the BBC, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management had millions of fingerprints stolen by a government hack, and most blamed China as the culprit.
It is clear the U.S. government has proved itself, at best, to be a struggling player and, at worst, an incompetent player in the field of cybersecurity. Still, this is the same government that believes it knows best on how to deal with cybercrime.
“There is no such thing as a backdoor that just the government has. That’s a pipe dream in the purest sense of the word,” said Lucas Wittwer, a junior at DePaul majoring in information assurance and security engineering. “The moment you make a backdoor so that the government has access, the Chinese, Russians and even unscrupulous private parties have your data. Saying it is required for national security is borderline asinine.”
In regards to the threat of terrorism which many in Washington have raised concerns about, Wittwer believes there are more effective ways of stopping terrorist attacks.
“Multiple studies have concluded that most communication for terrorism happens in ‘clear text’ without encryption,” Wittwer said. “A recent example is the Paris attacks. They were discussed in detail in a Facebook group.”