No country can ignore parts of the internet that are going dark

Simon Singh in The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking writes, “If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps adversity is the mother of cryptanalysis. The extent of digitization in our lives today is immense. we welcome the simplification of daily tasks, the use of internet platforms also poses security problems, which has led to a debate on the rules relating to information technologies (guidelines for intermediaries and code of ethics Digital Media), 2021. One of its key aspects was the government’s requirement of chat apps like WhatsApp and Signal to “trace the first author” of information on demand. Some activists have called it “social media police”, although the Center said tracing the origin of messages would be necessary if ordered by a court or a designated competent authority under India’s Social Media Act. information technology. At first glance, we may fear that this rule violates our privacy. and violate our fundamental rights as users of these platforms, but there is another side to this.

Most online communication services are now either end-to-end encrypted or follow some level of encryption by default. These privacy safeguards have rekindled government fears that technology is hampering law enforcement’s access to vital data, a phenomenon officials call “obscurity.”

The science of encrypting and decrypting information is called cryptography. The process uses a cryptographic algorithm known as “encryption,” a mathematical function that works by means of “keys” that encrypt a sender’s message and are then used to decrypt it at the recipient’s. Data that can be clearly read is called “plaintext”, while data that needs to be acted upon for understanding is called “ciphertext”. The same type of plaintext encrypted using different keys will result in different ciphertexts. Therefore, the security of its encrypted data depends on the strength of the cryptographic algorithm.

Note that “digits” are very different from “codes”, even though they are used synonymously by lay people. The “darkness” problem can be attributed to the use of “digits” for encryption. In the context of “codes”, one set of words can be converted into another set of words. For example, “I love India” can be the code for “I stay in Patna”; the recipient only needs a codebook to decode it as such. But in the case of numbers, individual letters can be replaced by a different group of letters. ‘I love India’ can be done ‘Bcxfg ogypt fbnnop’. To decipher this, one must know how each letter has been transformed. This poses a challenge to law enforcement agencies today.

The chats we have with our friends have a unique security code that verifies and guarantees that our chats are end-to-end encrypted. The entire message encryption and decryption process takes place on our devices. When we send a message, it is automatically secured with a cryptographic lock, the key to which rests only with the recipient’s device. Thus, without physical possession of either device, law enforcement cannot intercept the communication, whether it includes benign language or poses a risk to public safety. The most popular chat platform, WhatsApp, has made it clear that its encryption has “no switch”. And evidence suggests that so-called darknets and end-to-end encrypted messages have been a haven for terrorists.

In today’s technological age, encryption technologies are robust and even used by governments to protect critical infrastructure and their classified communications. If private platforms that use encryption find a way to grant “backdoor access” to law enforcement or government officials, chances are it will be exploited by ill-motivated hackers. . Therefore, as critics have argued, tracing the messages would involve either loosening or breaking the encryption.

The idea of ​​backdoor access was put forward by security analyst Geoffrey Corn, who pointed out that law enforcement does not want access through an unsecured backdoor, but rather needs the digital equivalent of a fortified ‘front door’ secured with proper locks and bars.

It has also been found that in order to direct advertisements to its users, Google has the ability to decrypt Gmail and G-chat communications, and Apple uses software that allows iCloud backups to occur in such a way that they can be decrypted.

Therefore, what might work are lawful access solutions included in the very design and development of encryption mechanisms. This would be safer than any attempt to exploit vulnerabilities after the fact. This requires cooperation between the government and private platforms, which could increase overall security while reducing the risk of hacking by bad guys.

Better encryption standards are sure to complicate matters further, which may require law enforcement to fight encryption with encryption. A key development in this space was Operation Trojan Shield, in which law enforcement agencies in several countries developed and operated an encrypted device to track drug traffickers, money launderers, peddlers of illegal firearms, etc.

Therefore, the way forward may not be in choosing between which is more important, privacy or public safety, but rather through regulation that delicately balances the two. Technology can be an ally. Building a secure “gateway” should be our goal. It can help solve cases or disrupt criminal activity.

The problem of “darkness” should not be ignored. In addition to safeguarding the privacy of their people, countries should also allow authorized agencies to protect citizens against threats from potential violators.

Nikhil Naren is a Chevening Scholar pursuing an LL.M. from Queen Mary, University of London

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