• The double-edged sword of encryption

    Date:24 February 2020 Author: Leila Stein Tags:

    Encryption has almost become a buzzword, synonymous with safety and privacy in the wake of major data leaks and spying reservations.

    Following the realisation that it is not just information relating to bank accounts and official applications that need to be protected, a boom in encryption for more supposedly mundane activities took off. This includes end-to-end encryption of certain messaging services like Whatsapp.

    Encryption is the process where information, such as a message, is converted into code so that it can not be intercepted and interpreted while being sent to it’s intended receiver.

    This is great to protect privacy and ensure information cannot be read without permission. However, while the positives of encryption have become commonly accepted, the increased use of this software has proven to make a space for malicious use and criminals to hide.

    Encrypted malware

    While the most obvious use of encryption would be to hide criminal activity, companies and individuals have also seen an increase in hackers using the software to instigate malware attacks.

    According to Techradar, these kinds of attacks are growing in 2020, with a number of governments falling victim. These organisations have noted successful or attempted attacks using SSL or TLS encryption.

    An issue with this kind of hacking is the difficulty detecting it, as even decryption has proven ineffective.

    Making it harder to catch predators

    In a recent investigation by the New York Times, the prevalence of child sexual abuse imagery online was exposed to be a much bigger problem than had been previously thought.

    As part of their investigation, they identified that many of these harmful images are shared over messenger apps, including Facebook messenger. Since this service is not encrypted, it is possible to catch those sharing identified imagery. However, once these kinds of messages become encrypted, identifying predators who share this content would become impossible.

    Tracking terrorists

    A U.S Homeland Security report from 2017 identified the downfalls when it comes to tracking suspicious individuals.

    “Encryption protects critical infrastructure, trade secrets, financial transactions, and personal communications and information. Yet encryption also limits law enforcement’s ability to track criminals, collect evidence, prevent attacks, and ensure public safety,” said the report.

    As terrorists or those planning criminal acts can hide their messages behind encrypted services, which can refuse to release decrypted messages to investigators, those looking into such acts have a harder time catching criminals before they can follow through with their plans.

    Image: Pixabay


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