Encryption does work, is not an “arcane black art” and has improved since revelations of surveillance were made.
Speaking at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden praised end-to-end encryption as it makes life harder for those who want to watch you and makes “mass surveillance impossible on a network level”.
Snowden said that he had seen progress made as companies focusing on new user interfaces and ways to interact with cryptographic tools, but said that “if you have to go three levels deep people will not use it”.
Also on the debate was Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. He said that technologies are not as secure as they could be, as security is often an afterthought. “We need to lock things down and make services secure out of box and think about security early on rather than later down the road,” he said.
“Users have to choose between a tool that is highly secure and impossible to use, or cheap and simple to use. Rational people choose insecure tools as simple to use.”
Soghoian welcomed Yahoo’s move to enable SSL by default, and said that businesses should start building security in by default too, as consumers would be more willing to use it if it were secure.
Asked if they could be confident that what encryption is still good enough to protect users from mass surveillance, Snowden said that it does work and is something that we should be “actively researching to inform tomorrow”.
Snowden also commented that the US Government “still has no idea what documents journalists have and do not have, as encryption works”. He said that the Government may have a massive computer to break encryption, or target users to steal keys and bypass users.
Soghoian said: “If the Government wants to get in it will find a way; and if you are a target of the NSA, then game over no matter what. So many of technologies are there for the taking and even if it is imperfect then you make it infeasible to spy on everyone.” Soghoian also said that with Google providing the world’s most popular browser and mobile operating system, people should realise that they are using an advertising platform and are a product to be sold.