Australian PM follows Teresa May in calling for weaknesses in end to end encrypted message apps
Malcolm Turnbull the Australia’s Prime Minister has shown his complete ignorance of how science and mathematics works regarding his comments on wanting to be able to break end to end encryption used by some messaging apps. He was talking about the Australian government’s plan to force handset and app providers to ‘allow’ law enforcement to access encrypted messages used by services such as Whatsapp and Signal. Messaging apps such as Whatsapp brought in end-to-end encryption in the wake of Edward Snowdens revelations of how the US and UK governments were routinely mass collecting details of messages sent across the internet. The encryption was rolled out on services such as Signal and Whatsapp for exactly the reason that they could not be forced to give details of the messages to governments should they be asked to do so.
Using end-to-end encryption where the messages are encrypted on the customers device rather than on the messaging providers servers means that even if the messages were intercepted they would be unreadable unless you know the keys to decrypt the messages. Although GHCQ and the NSA have the ability to break some encryption protocols it is believed that they cannot crack the encryption currently used by these messaging services.
This has prompted governments to call for ‘technical measures’ to be put into the service that will allow them to intercept the messages which they can currently do for phone calls, emails and other data that is not encrypted. Unfortunately the only way of doing this would be either putting some sort of ‘backdoor’ into the app which would allow law enforcement agents to view unencrypted versions of the messages or for these messaging services to completely change their setup so that messages can be unencrypted by some sort of ‘master key’. Both of these are bad ideas as they will make these platforms high targets for hackers to discover these weaknesses.
Malcolm Turnbull told journalists that he did not want a backdoor but wanted communications to be handed over to law enforcement like they can be in the offline world. But using an offline analogy these requests would be similar asking manufacturers of safes to provide a secret way that law enforcement could bypass a safes locks and this would need to be done not just for new safes but for every safes already in usage.
Strong encryption is already out in the wild now and although perhaps the Australian and UK government might be able to bully operators such as Whatapps to make change their apps by threatening legal action if they don’t comply there will be always be apps developed outside of the jurisdiction of the UK and Australia where end-to-end encryption will still be available. You can also get free open source software that gives you the ability to send encrypted messages as the protocols behind encryption such as AES 256 are published in the public domain so anyone can create their own apps if they wanted to. All this makes the comment by Malcolm Turnbull show how little he understands the concept of encryption as during a recent interview he told journalists:
“The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”
Perhaps Mr Turnbull also thinks that other Australian laws can be brought out to overcome the laws of maths and physics, perhaps making things such as faster than light travel possible (but only while in Australia obviously)