BlackBerry blasts snooping proposals

2015-07-09 08:46 - Duncan Alfreds
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The internal records of as many as 25 000 Homeland Security Department employees have been exposed during a recent computer break-in. (Kin Cheung, AP, file)

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Cape Town - BlackBerry has rejected political moves to ban strong encryption, saying that it's a short-sighted policy that would not serve companies or governments.

British Prime Minster David Cameron recently indicated that his government was intent on banning encryption as politicians battle extremists who often use anonymous online tools for communication.

"It's like banning walking sticks because somebody decided to bash his partner on the head with one. There is going to be a fraction of the population who is going to take something and use it negatively," Nader Henein, responsible for Advanced Security Solutions, at the Advisory Division at BlackBerry told Fin24.

BlackBerry has recently announced a partnership with Samsung to boost security on Galaxy smartphones using the Knox platform.

Revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden has showed that US spy agencies collect bulk data on the vast majority of internet users.

This prompted many to turn to encryption and anonymous web tools as a way of avoiding being caught up in a government net.

Platform compromise

Henein argued that the threat of extremists alone does not justify compromising a security platform used by government and business leaders to share documents and communicate.

"The question here now is: 'Is it worth changing an entire ecosystem so that you disable the 0.01%?' Are they going to stop what they're doing because encryption is no longer there? No.

"Extremism has been around since well before encryption and it's going to continue to be there until we evolve into something else."

Watch this online video on how to protect your mobile phone:

While cryptography goes back to ancient times, in the modern era, the technology has been a vital tool to ensure secret communications and there have been multiple efforts from governments to insist on back doors.

The Clipper Chip and Key Escrow were two technologies developed by the early 1990s which were marketed as encryption devices but were built with back doors that US government agencies such as the National Security Agency could access.

"Those two things were grossly fought down by the industry," Henein said of the efforts to enforce those tools as standards.

Snooping concerns

He argued that even if one government insisted on a particular tunnel for encryption technology, there was no uniform global standard that could be implemented and enforced.

"If you pass legislation in Europe that weakens the security of those products, two things are going to happen: Companies are going to move out of Europe and customers are not going to buy your product."

Technologies that promise anonymity have seen an upswing as more people are concerned about snooping.

Data from anonymous web search engine DuckDuckGo shows a significant increase in traffic to an average of 7.1 million queries per day with a peak of 10.2 million in late June.

In late 2013, usage of the anonymous browsing resource Tor more than doubled as people shifted away from the regular internet over government intrusions and legislation in some cases.

Politicians will have to adjust to the reality that more encrypted communications will be used on the internet, said Henein.

"Politicians can talk about the problems they face with new technology, but they're just going to have to find new solutions to adjust, rather than suppressing technology which is a bad idea, and really I don't think is doable. The genie is out of the box."

China is one of a number of countries that have expressed the idea that internet and technology companies should hand over keys to encryption technologies.

BlackBerry is unambiguous about its position on the security of its products like BES12.

"I can say unequivocally that we have no intention of introducing weaknesses into our product at the enterprise level," Henein said.


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