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Encryption Debate: 8 Things CIOs Should Know

Governments want access to encrypted communications to prevent terrorist attacks, but IT professionals and tech vendors say any weakening of encryption is a threat to privacy and data security.
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(Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation via Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps it's due to the recently televised presidential debates. Or perhaps it's a sign of the times in which we live. Either way, the topic of data encryption is hotter than ever.

On one side we have the pro-encryption camp that insists on maintaining encryption without backdoors or master keys of any kind. Once data is encrypted, only the sender and receiver will know what was sent. On the other side of the debate are those who believe special circumstances dictate when data can and should be decrypted through due process.

There's no doubt that valid points are made on both sides of the issue. Yet, you'll find that the majority of IT security professionals and technology companies are coming out against any method to weaken encryption standards. This obviously includes backdoors and storing encryption keys.

The US government seems to be changing its tune regarding what it is requesting from technology vendors in terms of data decryption capabilities. Until recently, federal law enforcement agencies were demanding complete backdoor access to encrypted applications. This would have given the US government the unfettered ability to decrypt data with little public oversight.

In fall 2015, the US government dropped the "backdoor" verbiage and now is requesting that technology vendors "maintain their ability to comply with state and local judges' warrants" by storing encryption keys for the government. When warrants are served that demand decryption of data on devices such as PCs, smartphones, and tablets, technology vendors would have to comply with these requests.

Many technology companies -- including Apple, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft -- have already made it clear that they don't want to create backdoors. Nor do they want to store encryption keys for the government. Their reason? It significantly decreases the effectiveness of encryption -- a critical component of an IT security posture. Businesses are under pressure to protect customer information, intellectual property, and other sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands. Handicapping encryption weakens their ability to meet that goal.

We break down the encryption debate, as it stands today. By exploring eight key factors influencing the discussion, we aim to reflect the thought processes on both sides of the debate -- and explain why the vast majority of IT professionals and technology vendors oppose altering their encryption protocols at the request of various governments around the world. Once you've reviewed these considerations, tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2016 | 9:52:13 AM
Is 2016 the year we see new encryption laws?
While I understand the Government's points about needing the ability to monitor communications from identified targets such as perceived terrorists, painting with a wide brush to say that encryption companies need to have keys available in cases where they want to access data, or worse that all encryption solutions need a back door, well, yes, it's a slippery slope indeed.

Companies and individuals have the right to protect their data and communications from surveillance, and with many liberties around online privacy, this is really one of the biggest gates to keep the right of privacy in the consumers and business' hands.  I'm personally hoping that the governments don't overstep their bounds here and enforce their right to access encrypted data, or at least that security companies providing encryption technologies continue to push back against modifying their solutions.
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2016 | 9:46:26 AM
gov't decryption

The US government seems to be changing its tune regarding what it is requesting from technology vendors in terms of data decryption capabilities. Until recently, federal law enforcement agencies were demanding complete backdoor access to encrypted applications.

--To paraphrase Carly Fiorina during one of the debates, government is woefully behind the private sector with technology. The change of tune--is that a good, proactive, updated move or is the government still behind?

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