Report: Paris attackers may have used unencrypted devices

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Some unconfirmed reports indicate that one of the Paris terrorists’ mobile phone, recovered from a trash can near the site of the deadliest of the night's strikes, appears to have been unencrypted.

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French media report that the phone contained a map of the concert hall and a text message sent shortly after the first gunman entered the venue reading, “Let’s go, we’re starting.”

According to Le Monde, the message was an SMS — a traditional text message sent over a wireless voice network.

Experts say such communications are inherently insecure and nearly impossible to encrypt.

How the terrorists communicated to plan the attack is the lynchpin of a raging debate in the United States over whether stiff encryption shielded the terrorists from intelligence surveillance.

Because the attacks were planned seemingly under the noses of French and Belgian authorities, some lawmakers and intelligence and law enforcement officials have repeated calls for tech companies to provide them with guaranteed access to secure devices.

“We in many respects have gone blind as a result of the commercialization and the selling of devices that cannot be accessed either by the manufacturer or, more importantly, by us in law enforcement, even equipped with the search warrants and judicial authority,” New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Critics of such arguments have pointed out that reports that the Paris attackers used encrypted devices to plot the strikes are as-yet unconfirmed.

Senior European counterterrorism officials told The New York Times they believed the terrorists used such devices but offered no evidence.

“The working assumption is that these guys were very security aware, and they assumed they would be under some level of observation and acted accordingly,” an anonymous official told the Times.

Earlier in the week, media reports suggested that the attackers may have planned the strikes through PlayStation 4 consoles, which officials say are incredibly difficult to monitor.

The link has widely been discredited as hypothetical and has been characterized as evidence that the attacks are being used to drum up the encryption debate.

Those monitoring the debate closely note that while there’s a good chance the terrorists used encrypted services to plan the attacks, they could also have easily communicated face-to-face.

Many security experts say the fears over unbreakable encryption that have risen in the wake of the attacks is a red herring for a larger problem — the need for better police-work to cut through the sheer volume of intelligence data.

“The law enforcement officials concerned about going dark are looking in the wrong place for solutions,” writes Jason Healey, a former director of cyber infrastructure protection at the White House.

“Having a backdoor into encryption for police or spy agencies generally only matters if investigators have identified their targets but can't read their communications. That wasn't the case prior to the Paris attacks.”