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    What is an Encryption Backdoor? Is it a boon or a bane?

    26 Feb 2022

    What is an Encryption Backdoor? Is it a boon or a bane?

    Read time: 7 minutes

    Before we look at Encryption Backdoor as a whole, let’s have a brief rundown of these two separately. Encryption is a method of scrambling information so only approved keyholders can comprehend the data. In other words, encryption takes decipherable information and adjusts it, so it seems arbitrary.
    On the other hand, backdoor is a means to access a system or encrypted data by avoiding the standard method of authentication. It is typically inserted into a programme or algorithm before being widely distributed. It is frequently hidden in the design of the programme or algorithm.

    What is an Encryption Backdoor?

    An encryption backdoor is a method of bypassing authentication and accessing encrypted data in certain services. It can also be defined as a deliberate weakness created by the service provider to allow for easy access to encrypted data. An encryption backdoor would either allow the intruder to guess the access key based on the context of the message or to present a skeleton key that would always grant him access.
    Encryption backdoors and vulnerabilities are quite similar theoretically as they both provide an unconventional way for someone to enter a system. However, the difference is that backdoors are created on purpose, whereas vulnerabilities are unintentional.

    Benefits of Encryption Backdoors

    1. An encryption backdoor would aid law enforcement and intelligence agencies in their efforts to combat and prevent crime. This would also expedite investigations because agencies would be able to intercept communications and search suspects’ electronic devices to gather data. Officials claim that a backdoor would greatly benefit investigations of terrorism and hate crime.
    2. It can be used to restore user access when there is no other option. It can also be utilized for troubleshooting purposes.
    3. It can help uncover child sexual abuse material (CSAM) hidden in encrypted messaging applications.

    Drawbacks of Encryption Backdoors:

    1. While an encryption backdoor may seem like a boon to solve crimes, it may eventually leave numerous applications and services vulnerable. The same backdoor which the law enforcement agencies and governments are making a strong case for, can be exploited by hackers which would ultimately lead to rise in cybercrime.
    2. Intelligence agencies could misuse a backdoor to spy on people without a warrant and collect maximum data.
    3. IT organisations would be forced to store decryption keys in their databases which would give an opportunity to cybercriminals to steal the keys and extract sensitive information of billions of people.
    4. In case of IoT devices, backdoor to one will lead to exposing all other devices connected on the network.
    5. The threats of encryption backdoors increase when enterprises use multiuser and networking operating systems.

    Are Encryption Backdoors necessary?

    Global tech giants have expressed their displeasure over the inclusion of encryption backdoors. Encryption protects everything from networks and devices to email and banking transactions. Law enforcement agencies might have the best intentions, but it is important to understand that without trusted encryption, the internet would be a more fertile place for hackers.
    With privacy experts advising constantly on maintaining the strongest possible encryption standards, and on the other hand, law enforcement agencies willing to have backdoor in order to nab criminals, clearly shows that no middle ground has been found yet and this debate will only intensify over the time. The only thing we can do presently is protect our data with our best ability.

    Conclusion

    Encryption backdoors can both be useful and harmful at the same time. At present, there isn’t any well-defined policy for backdoors, however we hope whatever decision is taken, its in the best interest of all, keeping in mind the privacy and data security of citizens as well as the concerns of government apprehending criminals for maintaining public safety.

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