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The Growing Encryption Problem


End to end encryption has been around since the beginning of computers. PGP encryption was one of the first forms introduced in 1991. The encryption was so good that the government arrested the inventor, Phil Zimmerman, for illegal export of the software to foreign countries. Eventually he was cleared of criminal charges. The use of encryption continued to grow in popularity over the next two decades.


Facebook recently introduced a beta version of a new feature called secret conversations. These conversations are encrypted end to end between user devices, which prevents outsiders from intercepting the messages. Hypothetically this means that someone snooping others on a public wi-fi, law enforcement with a search warrant, or even Facebook can't see the contents of these messages.


This is on the heels of Facebook owned WhatsApp utilizing the feature in April 2016. Facebook showed up late to the encryption party. Apple created mainstream acceptance to encryption when iMessage was introduced with encryption already embedded. As most law enforcement know, iMessage encryption prevents the ability to intercept these messages through trap and trace orders, Pen Registers, and Title III intercepts. Apple does store the messages in an encrypted form for user accessibility; however, it is publicly unknown if Apple is able to decrypt messages and provide them to law enforcement when compelled by court documents.


The introduction of encryption to Facebook messaging does not mean law enforcement will be instantly locked out of the messages. The feature is still slowly being introduced and the user has to opt in to the service. Another feature, similar to snap chat, will allow messages to self-destruct after a specified time. One downside for users is the encryption will only work on one user device and an individual does not have the choice to transfer encryption to multiple devices. However, the sheer size and popularity of Facebook will cause significant issues to law enforcement who utilize Facebook messages in their cases. A recent download of my Facebook data omits the numerous Facebook messages sent utilizing the Secret Conversation feature. This download is similar to the data law enforcement receives, thus this may become a potential intelligence gap for law enforcement.


The number of apps that aren’t using encryption in their messaging is becoming rare outside of China. Even Google has introduced encryption through their chat Allo. This continued push towards privacy will continue to heighten the fight between law enforcement and Silicon Valley. Law enforcement cannot defeat encryption through brute force. To defeat 256-bit AES encryption, a modern supercomputer would require hundreds of billions of years to crack the code. Encryption is quickly becoming a serious problem for law enforcement and despite congressional attempts to create backdoors, encryption will be here to stay and continue to grow.


Juliet Bravo Solutions can provide the training you need to learn about the different encryption protocols that exist and how they can impact your investigation. Contact us today for more information.

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