TECH & SCI­ENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - FRONT PAGE - with CHRIS

THE Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment is seek­ing to ac­cel­er­ate the pass­ing of laws which will en­able po­lice and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to com­pel tech com­pa­nies to aid them in the covert re­trieval of end to end en­crypted mes­sages of sus­pected crim­i­nals. While such power would re­quire a war­rant, tech gi­ants such as Google, Face­book, Ama­zon and Twit­ter have raised con­cerns that such mea­sures would ne­ces­si­tate the un­der­min­ing of the se­cu­rity fea­tures hard baked into their re­spec­tive plat­forms, open­ing up the po­ten­tial for hack­ers to ac­cess the pri­vate in­for­ma­tion of any user, not just crim­i­nals. In other words, they are con­cerned that in at­tempt­ing to pre­vent phys­i­cal do­mes­tic ter­ror threats, the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment may in­ad­ver­tently open the flood­gates for dig­i­tal ter­ror­ists and crim­i­nals in­ter­na­tion­ally. But the gov­ern­ment in­sists that what they seek isn’t a back door that will break the en­cryp­tion of a mes­sag­ing plat­form or app, but rather a ‘front door’ means of ac­cess­ing that in­for­ma­tion. And Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son in­sists that agen­cies such as ASIO need such laws passed ur­gently be­fore Christ­mas.

Break­ing the code

So what are en­crypted mes­sages and ser­vices, pre­cisely, and who uses them? En­cryp­tion is the tech­nol­ogy that scram­bles mes­sages us­ing com­plex al­go­rithms into un­read­able codes as they travel from sen­der to re­ceiver, so any­one who in­ter­cepts the mes­sage can’t read it. These days, just about ev­ery­one uses en­crypted mes­sag­ing and ser­vices on­line - from bank­ing and on­line shop­ping, to simple chat­ting be­tween friends. The main rea­son why so many peo­ple feel com­fort­able us­ing ser­vices and stor­ing data on­line is be­cause of the large scale, over­all suc­cess of plat­forms like Face­book, Google and Ap­ple in build­ing en­cryp­tion into those ser­vices. If your ac­count was hacked into ev­ery sec­ond day, and you had money stolen, those tech gi­ants would have crum­bled to dust years ago as no one would have used them. When these com­pa­nies are hacked into or their se­cu­rity is breached in some fash­ion, it’s an in­ter­na­tional scan­dal. Given this, it’s not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing that the big tech com­pa­nies would fight such laws, as forc­ing them to build weak­nesses into their plat­forms will un­der­mine their se­cu­rity for all users, not sim­ply the crim­i­nals mis­us­ing them.

Knock­ing on the front door

But as pre­vi­ously stated, the gov­ern­ment in­sists that it doesn’t want to weaken the en­cryp­tion of ser­vices, rather, it wants a ‘front door’ means of ac­cess­ing a sus­pect’s data and mes­sages. But what does a front door ap­proach en­tail, ex­actly? For­mer Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tor Nigel Phair knows the laws could en­able agen­cies to com­pel tech com­pa­nies to as­sist them with in­ves­ti­ga­tions. “Go­ing through the de­vice would be the eas­i­est thing,” he told SBS News. “That would be ei­ther through a key-stroke log­ger, maybe an ad­di­tional se­cre­tive app down­loaded on to [the de­vice], maybe through an up­date of the other apps that are on the de­vice.” Put sim­ply, even if a sus­pect was us­ing an en­crypted mes­sag­ing ser­vice, a tech com­pany could in­stall an app or up­date on the de­vice that mon­i­tors key­strokes or takes a screen­shot and sends it to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

But what if such power falls into the wrong hands?

Com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity is ob­vi­ously an im­por­tant and on­go­ing task, but many have raised con­cerns about the new ‘ca­pa­bil­i­ties’ of law en­force­ment agen­cies, built by tech com­pa­nies, fall­ing to the very hands of those they are try­ing to stop. “The prob­lem is that when you break en­cryp­tion for one, you break it for ev­ery­one,” said Tim Sin­gle­ton Nor­ton, chair of Dig­i­tal Rights Watch. And in a joint sub­mis­sion to the Home Af­fairs depart­ment, a group rep­re­sent­ing Ama­zon, Face­book, Google, Oath and Twit­ter raised se­ri­ous con­cerns with the scope of the bill and a lack of over­sight. “While [we] ap­pre­ci­ate the chal­lenges fac­ing law en­force­ment, we have con­cerns with the bill, which, con­trary to its stated ob­jec­tive, may serve to ac­tu­ally un­der­mine pub­lic safety by mak­ing it eas­ier for bad ac­tors to com­mit crimes against in­di­vid­u­als, or­gan­i­sa­tions or com­mu­ni­ties,” the sub­mis­sion reads. Adding that the pro­posed laws would ef­fec­tively “re­quire the provider to iden­tify a weak­ness in the se­cu­rity of data in their sys­tems or tech­nol­ogy and to make that weak­ness known to those agen­cies”.

KEYS TO THE FRONT DOOR: The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment is seek­ing to pass laws that will give law en­force­ment agenices radf­i­cal new powers to ac­cess sus­pected crim­i­nals’ en­crypted mes­sages.

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