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Encrypted Messaging Apps Face New Scrutiny Over Possible Role in Paris Attacks


The Eiffel Tower on Monday.

The Paris attacks have revived a contentious debate between U.S. intelligence officials and Silicon Valley over opening "back door" to decode encrypted data and conversations.

Credit: Frank Augustein/AP Images

Obama administration officials say the Paris attacks have brought new attention to how the Islamic State has used encrypted messaging applications, many of which cannot be cracked by the U.S. National Security Agency. The incident has revived a contentious debate between U.S. intelligence officials and Silicon Valley over the government's push to compel technology companies to open a "back door" to decode encrypted data and conversations.

The White House ultimately agreed with a coalition of cryptographers and computer security experts that such a move would increase the vulnerability of confidential data and critical infrastructure to wrongdoers and enemies of the U.S., and encourage terrorists to adopt encrypted services sold abroad. Security experts also say even end-to-end encryption leaves behind a trail of metadata that can be used to determine who is speaking 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," says the University of Pennsylvania's Matt Blaze. He also notes even with encryption it's possible to read communications by hacking into the target device. "So this idea that encryption make terrorists' communications go completely dark has a pretty big asterisk next to it," Blaze says.

From The New York Times
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