Bypassing encryption: ‘Lawful hacking’ is the next frontier of law enforcement technology

Source: Ben Buchanan, The Conversation, March 16, 2017

The discussion about how law enforcement or government intelligence agencies might rapidly decode information someone else wants to keep secret is – or should be – shifting. One commonly proposed approach, introducing what is called a “backdoor” to the encryption algorithm itself, is now widely recognized as too risky to be worth pursuing any further.

The scholarly and research community, the technology industry and Congress appear to be in agreement that weakening the encryption that in part enables information security – even if done in the name of public safety or national security – is a bad idea. Backdoors could be catastrophic, jeopardizing the security of billions of devices and critical communications.

What comes next? Surely police and spy agencies will still want, or even need, information stored by criminals in encrypted forms. Without a backdoor, how might they get access to data that may help them solve – or even prevent – a crime?

The future of law enforcement and intelligence gathering efforts involving digital information is an emerging field that I and others who are exploring it sometimes call “lawful hacking.” Rather than employing a skeleton key that grants immediate access to encrypted information, government agents will have to find other technical ways – often involving malicious code – and other legal frameworks…..