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14th January 2015


Blog: Does the UK government want to ban encryption?



In a speech in Paris following the attacks there in January 2015, it appears that British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed that end-to-end encryption ought to be banned. He didn't use those actual words - he actually said that if re-elected he "would stop the use of methods of communication that cannot be read by the security services".

He presumably was thinking specifically of services like WhatsApp, Snapchat or Telegram, but restricting specific apps or platforms is obviously pointless as people would just move to other services.

Most online services use some form of encryption; Many web sites now use encryption ('HTTPS' prefixed connections) by default including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Ebay. That is end-to-end encryption and, particularly with the increasing use of public hotspots and share connectivity, such security is vital to prevent interception by fraudsters or other invasions of privacy. 

Many other applications also rely on end-to-end encryption such as PDQ machines, cashpoints (ATMs), EFTPOS (banking), financial platforms, email, all Cloud-based applications such as Office 365 or Google apps, Dropbox, VPNs etc.  As another example, our own VoIP equipped support strong VoIP encryption which additionally protects against man-in-the-middle attacks.

Whilst Mr. Cameron might argue that he doesn't want to ban encryption, merely allow access, at will by the security/intelligence services, we must be in no doubt - you cannot put backdoors into end-to-end encryption; that immediately removes the security of the protocol and makes it vulnerable.    

Mr. Cameron's comments are clearly at odds with the government's previous statements about how companies need to increase their online security and the ICO's requirements that companies protect customer data - that's difficult if we're not allowed to send or hold encrypted communications.

Terrorists presumably do use encryption, however, banning end-to-end encryption would have far wider implications. It the equivalent of banning people from locking their houses and cars in case the police need to look inside.

We'd suppose that Mr. Cameron was speaking about principles rather than implementation and and I don't think we'll ever see end-to-end encryption banned but we must be wary of the implications of weakening IT security to fight terrorism vs. the ability to protect our data against fraud and invasions of privacy.

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Note : This article is an editorial piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of DrayTek Corp, its staff or any associated person or company. The information is provided in good faith based on publicly available information however has not been independently verified. As such, no reliance, commercial or otherwise should be placed on the information which is provided for discussion or interest only. 



From: Optimist

Of course, if encryption were banned then the uk government would compensate me whenever I was hacked as a consequence, right? Right? Or maybe we just wait for all hacking to be eliminated and the internet made completely safe for end users, then ban encryption - should only take a year or two to sort out, right? Right?

From: PeeweeHermin

I think it makes perfect sense. After all if you make encryption illegal Terrorists will take note and not use it right? What scares me is that if an MP/PM can get something so wrong about an area in which I know well, how wrong are his decisions he is making about other areas of goverment I dont have a skill set in. i.e. NHS/Defense/Infrastructure to name but a few.

From: Jimbo

Fore-sprung dork technique! Advancement through political point scoring.

From: Mikee

Typically Cameron or his advisors haven't got the first idea with regard to the implications of his proposal. He is just trying to score a political lead and using the terrible events in Paris as an excuse to further erode our personal privacy and security.

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