There is No More Encryption Debate: Backdoors Threaten the Whole Worldby@daniel-jeffries
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There is No More Encryption Debate: Backdoors Threaten the Whole World

by Daniel JeffriesJuly 1st, 2017
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As a society we simply can’t allow backdoors in encryption, says Julian Zelizer. As soon as we cripple encryption with backdoors, we’ve built a ticking time bomb, he says. We sacrifice real safety for the illusion of safety, something we've gotten very good at as a society. Zelizer: Petya and WannaCry both use powerful exploits that the NSA kept secret for years. The Shadow Brokers keep dumping cyberweapons from the NSA's Pandora’s Box. Expect more viruses and damage to critical infrastructure.

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The encryption debate ends now. As a society we simply can’t allow backdoors in encryption. Anyone who tells you otherwise has absolutely no idea how computers work.

Backdoors are a threat to the security of the entire world.

There is no more room for debate here, no more compromise.

As the Petya ransomware virus rampages across the planet, shutting down hospitals, schools and major businesses everywhere, obliterating data with a vengeance, we have all the proof we’ll ever need that nobody can build a backdoor and keep it safe. Why? Because Petya and WannaCry both use powerful exploits that the NSA kept secret for years.

Right up until they couldn’t.

And there’s more to come. The Shadow Brokers keep dumping cyberweapons from the NSA’s Pandora’s Box. Expect more viruses and damage to critical infrastructure.

The worst part is that this isn’t even surprising.

Eventually secrets will always leak from big, sprawling, bureaucratic entities. I want you to take a good long look at the list of US companies and agencies that were breached over the last decade. Go ahead. Take your time. Here’s a brief roundup of the world’s greatest hacking hits:

  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Medicaid
  • UK Ministry of Defense
  • UK Customs
  • U.S. Army
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • NSA
  • Bank of America
  • Seventy different law enforcement agencies across the US
  • Florida Department of Juvenile Corrections
  • State of Texas
  • Democratic National Committee
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
  • JP Morgan Chase

And we’re going to leave the keys to a backdoor in the hands of people who can’t even keep their own houses locked?

That’s like handing a loaded gun to a raging derelict in NYC.

Ben Franklin said, “Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

100% of tech experts agree we can’t build backdoors only the “good guys” get to use. It’s not even remotely possible.

This isn’t even the climate change debate. I’m talking 100% agreement, not 97%. There’s no wiggle room. If you’re a politician looking to hire a “red-blue team” to fake-debate this you won’t find a single real tech person who agrees with you. Not one. So don’t bother. You’ll find fools and other people who think that computers work like magic, powered by unicorns and pixie dust, or who march to talking points like Lemmings off a cliff. But you won’t find anyone who actually knows a thing about computers to agree with you.

Make no mistake: As soon as we cripple encryption with backdoors, we’ve built a ticking time bomb. We’ve sacrificed real safety for the illusion of safety, something we’ve gotten very good at as a society.

It’s not a question of if the keys to a backdoor get out, but when?

And when it does it will be a disaster for the entire world.

Nothing will be safe.

Banks will get raided with impunity and people’s entire life savings will vaporize in seconds. People will die as critical medical equipment seizes up in ransomware attacks that make today’s global assaults look like child’s play. Voting systems will collapse. Military communications will crumble.

And all because we’re no longer willing to accept risk in society. We’ve become so desperate to stop terrorism that we’ve lost our minds. We can’t make rational decisions anymore. We can no longer accept that there are always going to be bad people who do bad things.

The answer is not to punish everyone else, but to punish the people who did those bad things.

Instead, the prevailing “logic” is that we should cripple the entire system to give us the comfortable illusion that the bad guys will be easier to find. But they won’t. The Irish Republican Army blew up a lot of cafes in Britain in the 1960’s and 70’s long before we had encryption. The 9/11 scumbags didn’t have WhatsApp. They killed 3,000 people anyway. And still we have the UK’s Theresa May calling for backdoors, as well as the Australian government and the FBI in a coordinated attack on common sense.

You can spot a lying politician easily. If there’s a nasty attack, watch how the talking-heads pop onto TVs the very next day crying about the need to stop encryption. This makes them automatic liars because they’ll have no evidence encryption was even used in the attack. It’s literally impossible. Investigations don’t move that fast. So the only rational conclusion is they’re just exploiting a tragedy for their own agenda. That’s why after the Paris attacks in 2015, the talking-heads were out in force, only to find out the attackers used plain text messages.

But I’m not even saying that the bad guys won’t use encryption. They will and they do. ISIS built their own secure messaging app.

Here’s the thing though: I’m betting ISIS won’t be giving us the backdoor keys to their messaging app any time soon.

So how is mandating backdoors to WhatsApp going to help?

It’s not. Because the politicians know this isn’t about stopping terrorists. It’s about spying on average citizens and journalists and activists. It’s about being lazy. It’s about wanting centralized control of everything.

They can’t help it, it’s in their nature. A scorpion stings, even when the sting will sink them.

It’s real simple. If a politician is calling for backdoors, it’s for one of three reasons:

  • They have no idea how computers work
  • They’re willfully ignorant
  • They’re lying

My guess is that 99% fall into bullet point three because experts have been telling them this over and over and over since the 1990’s. They know this isn’t possible. They just don’t care. They’re willing to compromise the security of the whole world because of their stupidity. And that’s not just stupid, it’s dangerous.

They now use the boogeyman of terrorism to justify the passage of every single misguided and dangerously overreaching law.

Police can steal money from citizens for no reason like they’re a bunch of crooked Mexican cops rolling tourists at Spring Break. Intelligence agencies can spy on every single person with impunity, while a secret court gives them a rubber stamp 97.97% of the time. Homeland Security can hold people indefinitely without trial. Our tourism industry is crashing. Nobody wants to come to our country because getting through the door is now such a nightmare.

What the hell are we doing?

The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves. They didn’t want Star Chambers and a complete lack of transparency from their leaders. That’s why they threw those stamps in the sea.

How much more ridiculous does it have to get before we wake up?

Aren’t we tired of compromising the rights and freedoms of everyone because of a few crazies? That’s like punishing everyone in the barracks because one guy snuck in a jelly doughnut. It makes no sense.

Fuck the terrorists.

We’re not supposed to change for them.

We’re supposed to go right on doing what we like, because it drives them crazy.

Living openly, drinking, smoking and screwing, speaking our minds, praying and worshiping whoever we want without fear.

Instead we’ve done the opposite.

We’ve compromised our freedoms across the board. We treat everyone in society like a child now.

By saying we need backdoors to stop terrorists, politicians are openly saying we need to compromise the security of banks, the stock market, hospitals, and the military. What sane person would think that’s a good idea?

Encryption is not the enemy. It’s essential to our national security. Insane, fanatical extremists are the enemy.

What the politicians can’t admit is that they can’t stop terrorism. Bad things happen in life. It’s horrible and awful and terrifying. We all wish there was a real answer. But there isn’t. And I’m not willing to pretend there is just because it makes me feel better.

Here’s a list of Islamic extremist attacks since the 1960s. Take a look at the list of countries. It’s pretty much every country on Earth. It doesn’t matter if we adopt the iron fist of authoritarianism, like China or Russia, or the completely open and flexible nature of democracy, it still happens.

But here’s the other thing the lying politicians won’t tell you. It doesn’t happen that often. Far from terrorists rampaging through the streets and streaming over the border with ease, your chance of dying in a terror attack is 1 in 3.6 million. Your chance of being killed by a refugee? Even less. A lot less. 1 in 3.6 billion. Chances of being killed by those illegal immigrants that idiots like Paul Ryan use to gin up everyone’s fear? 1 in 10.9 billion. That is the same as your chance of dying in a plane crash which is 1 in 11 billion.

You actually have a better chance of winning the lottery, than dying from an illegal immigrant.

By the way, you have a 1 in 114 chance of dying in a car wreck in your lifetime.

Hell, you’ve got a better chance of being hit by lightning than dying of terrorism. The chances are 1 in 161,856.

Oh and you have a 1 in 4 chance of dying of heart disease or cancer in your lifetime.

But we spend a paltry $10 billion a year on heart disease and cancer research and a trillion on trying to stop terrorism.

In other words, we focus all of our energy on the most improbable situations. I don’t know what else to call that but a catastrophic flaw in human reasoning.

And like all the others flaws in human reasoning, it’s pure cognitive dissonance. Blaming encryption for terror attacks is like blaming watermelons and the color green for your favorite team losing the Super Bowl.

Politicians are always looking for points to score, not real solutions. They look for any made-up phantom to blame for the chaotic and uncertain nature of life. It’s disgusting. Encryption is just another convenient scapegoat.

We need to start electing people who will deliver real, sane, competent solutions to problems, if such a person even exists. I’m not so sure. But I am sure of one thing:

The more we go down our current path of insane reasoning and fake fixes to real problems, the more lost we are.

The terrorists are winning.

Bin Laden didn’t just destroy two buildings and kill 3,000 people in cold blood.

He made us turn inwards and destroy ourselves.


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A bit about me: I’m an author, engineer and serial entrepreneur. During the last two decades, I’ve covered a broad range of tech from Linux to virtualization and containers.

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