Recently I was at a party and the topic turned to “the terrorists use encryption to hide their communications, we should get rid of all encryption so the police can monitor everything.”
And to my shame, I had only technical answers such as “but you need encryption because of security, otherwise everybody can see what you’re doing.”
Queue obvious answer “I have nothing to hide!”
And to my (further) shame, I only got as far as “I do”. Yes, we had some great laughs about all the different kinds of porn I shouldn’t be watching.
That’s been going round and round in my head until this afternoon. I had an epiphany while driving home. Encryption is like a lock on your front door. To continue the debate, terrorists stay in houses and lock the front door so nobody can see what they are doing. Well, we better remove all the locks from our front doors. That way the police can always check for illegal activity. There’s only one small drawback, not just the police can walk in, anybody can… at any time. Are you on the toilet? Don’t worry, your nosy neighbour won’t walk in. Are you having sex with your wife/girlfriend/FWB/alone? Don’t worry, the amateur photography club won’t think that’s a great moment to take some quality pictures. Or what about when you’re not home? I’m sure nobody will be interested in your TV, laptop or jewels.
I can already hear the counter arguments: “I don’t use online services for things I’m ashamed of.” And you’re right. The annoying thing is that that lock on your front door, doesn’t just keep people from using the webcam on your laptop. It prevents them from going to the bank’s website, impersonate you and get a loan on your name. Or empty your bank account. Encryption is used to verify your identity. That little calculator you put your debit card in which gives you a random number uses encryption to generate those numbers (read more, this article isn’t about how that technically works).
Small disclaimer: that’s not exactly encryption, but it uses the same principles and techniques.
“What about those backdoors we keep hearing about. That way, only the police can enter.” Aaah, yes, because leaving the back door of your house unlocked will only give the police access to your house. Oh wait, everybody still can. Now they just have to jump through a hoop. That will discourage some people, but not everybody. With encryption, you don’t try to crack the big, hardened front door, you look for the best spot to break the wall. And if you build such a weakness into your house, you’re practically asking for trouble. There are enough people out there who’ll try to tackle that challenge just for the fun of it.
So the next time I hear friends talk about why we need encryption, I’ll tell them it’s because I like a lock on my front door. You may not have any embarrassing data on your pc (little hint, yes, you do, you just might overlook it or not realise it right now), but you might have valuable data. With all the recent hacks and leaks (take a look at the twitter from HIBP), I think we can all use a stronger lock, not a weaker one.