It is highly probable that the effects of the recent Paris attacks will be seen throughout all aspects of cyber-security and privacy. In particular it is rather interesting to consider the effects in regards to consumer encrypted messaging services. It is often the case that there is change in security policy and measures that commensurate with a terror attack. Therefore it is reasonable and practical to envisage western governments to express interest and attention in encrypted messaging services.
On the market today there is a significant amount services that offer the consumer end to end encryption. Examples of such services are: What’s App, Silent Circle, and Wickr. What end to end encryption is, in respect to communications, is the ability for users to communicate to both end completely encrypted. The result of this technology is that the only users able to read and interpret data are either the sender or the receiver. The implications of this is that there is no method of which any organization has the ability to read and interpret the communications being sent, even the company hosting the service.
In the wake of these attacks, there will be a greater desire of law enforcement agencies of the western civilizations to have access to intercept these messages. Senator Dianne Feinstein from California is calling for a “back door” into these services, stating that it is a problem that these services can “create a product that allows evil monsters to communicate in this way.” It his highly reasonable to extrapolate that this is only the start of a conversation on consumer encrypted communication services.
These government agencies are calling for these “back doors” in the wake of these attacks because it allows terrorists to communicate and coordinate with the messages being completely encrypted. An organization named Middle East Media Research Institute has released a report stating that a significant number of radical groups are using these services to communicate. However it is important to review these reports with caution, because the institute who released these reports are a not for profit political organization located in Washington. In addition it is dubious how the information was found, because according to the mechanics of end to end encryption this information is impossible to recover. However regardless of the verisimilitude of these reports, it is important to acknowledge the potential implications of these technologies.
In final it is significantly important to consider the technical implications of creating this “back door”. Creating this back door also creating an additional set of probable problems in regards to this topic. Nickolas Weaver, a senior researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, stated “You cannot hack a back door that lets only the good guys in… If you add one, it becomes usable by Chinese intelligence, Russian intelligence, and criminals.” Therefore if following these calls for an intercept-able encrypted messaging, would also ruin the purpose of using these services for communications.
In conclusion the future of consumer encrypted messaging services is uncertain in the wake of these attacks. The conversation in regards to public safety, in respect to these service is just beginning. It is also important to consider the technical consequences of creating a “back door.” The Paris attacks will a have a wide-reaching effect in the realm of information security, consumer encrypted messaging is only one of the many aspects that may be altered in the wake of these attacks.
Michael Henry Boc