After nearly 50 years, encryption opponents remain incorrect in the Crypto Wars.

After nearly 50 years, encryption opponents remain incorrect in the Crypto Wars.

The Crypto Wars: A Battle for Privacy and Security

By Steven Levy | Published on WIRED

Steven Levy

When I contemplate the return of the crypto wars—attempts to block citizens’ use of encryption by officials who want unfettered spying powers—I look back with dread on the late Middle Ages. Starting around 1337 and all the way until 1453, England and France fought a series of bloody battles, known as the Hundred Years’ War. Similarly, the conflict between encryption advocates and authorities has been going on for nearly five decades.

From the start, government efforts to constrain or outlaw secure encrypted communications were vigorous and persistent. However, by the turn of the millennium, it seemed like encryption had won. Encryption became an essential part of the internet, built into browsers and messaging systems. But certain elements within governments worldwide remained uneasy with the idea of citizens being able to share secrets safe from the eyes of surveillants. Proposed regulations and scary scenarios of “going dark” would periodically arise.

The arguments against encryption are always the same. Authorities claim that allowing encryption to flourish protects terrorists, criminals, and drug dealers. However, the counterarguments are equally compelling. Without encryption, everyone becomes vulnerable to blackmail, theft, and corporate espionage. The last remnants of privacy disappear. Moreover, building a backdoor for the authorities would only make those secrets more accessible to hackers and criminals. Even outlawing encryption wouldn’t work since nefarious individuals would still continue to use it.

Thankfully, encryption is winning this battle. Popular services like Apple, WhatsApp, and Signal have embraced end-to-end encryption as the default. However, new battlefronts have recently emerged. The UK proposes amending its Investigatory Powers Act to demand plaintext versions of communications from companies. Apple has threatened to withdraw its services if the regulation passes, and other providers may follow. The US Senate has also joined in with a proposed law to renew the crypto war under the guise of combating drug trafficking.

The resistance against encryption illustrates a lack of understanding of the technology. Creating deliberately blind encryption tools is about protecting privacy and reining in surveillance, not enabling criminal activities. We need more end-to-end encryption, especially as it becomes critical for protecting the privacy of women seeking abortions in states where such choices are under attack. Additionally, with the rise of generative AI, encryption becomes essential to keep our intimate conversations with chatbots private.

Will the crypto wars continue for another century? Only time will tell. But as long as governments continue using scare tactics and demanding backdoors, encryption protocols will remain a topic of contention. Public key cryptography, which was once seen as a revolutionary breakthrough, is celebrating its 50th anniversary surrounded by renewed debates and threats to its existence.

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A Look Back: The First Crypto Wars

In his 2001 book Crypto, Steven Levy described the first iteration of the crypto wars. The invention of public key cryptography provided a means for cryptographic security in electronic commerce. However, US government agencies attempted to thwart this development by imposing export regulations that made it illegal to sell software overseas that used strong encryption. The legislation aimed to protect national security but hindered the growth of secure online communication and commerce. Some legislators resisted these fear tactics, which continued to be used three decades later.

In October 1993, US representatives Gejdenson and Cantwell organized a subcommittee hearing to address the contentious issue. Many legislators unquestioningly accepted the NSA’s contentions, while a cognitive dissonance arose between their arguments and the realities portrayed by techno-visionaries. Legislators like Maria Cantwell saw through the fear and recognized the futility of maintaining export rules. It became clear that if American companies couldn’t export secure encryption, criminals would simply obtain it elsewhere.

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Ask Me One Thing: Building a Remote Work Culture

Building a remote work culture can be challenging due to the lack of spontaneous interactions that naturally occur in physical office spaces. However, several strategies can help foster a strong work culture in remote environments. Conducting regular all-hands meetings where everyone gathers and shares updates can enhance transparency and create a shared sense of community. Additionally, when new employees join, facilitating one-on-one meetings with managers, coworkers, and experienced colleagues can help them navigate the company structure and build relationships.

Getting employees to return to the office also poses its own difficulties. Making the office more attractive and preserving personalized workspaces can make the transition back more appealing. Moreover, executives who are working remotely should lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to returning to the office rather than perpetuating the perception of unequal treatment.

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End Times Chronicle – Last but Not Least

While the crypto wars persist, other significant events continue to shape our world.

  • Despite the ongoing conflict, Ukraine’s tech sector perseveres.
  • As Oppenheimer hits theaters, it’s a reminder to monitor AI and its potential impact, much like we do with nuclear weapons.
  • AeroPress enthusiasts can rejoice in the release of a supersized coffee maker.
  • June may have set record heat levels, but the planet always has new surprises in store.
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