FBI budget calls for big boost to battle encryption

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The FBI is requesting $38 million in funding to combat the risk of “going dark” — a 23-percent increase over what the agency spent last year to counter the growing use of encryption technology.

The money will be used to develop and purchase tools to access encrypted data during investigations, something Director James Comey has repeatedly warned is stymying investigations.

Critics of end-to-end encryption — which even a device’s manufacturer can’t break — argue that law enforcement must have a way to legally access locked data with the appropriate court order.

But many in the security community argue that providing any guaranteed access to law enforcement opens up the day-to-day functions of the Internet, like banking, to hackers.

They say what law enforcement is asking for is still effectively a “backdoor,” and that to provide such access safely is technologically infeasible.

Some have suggested that rather than legislatively mandating a backdoor, the FBI will simply have to get better at hacking encrypted devices. The agency has been developing and using traditional hacking tools to conduct investigations for over a decade, although it rarely discloses its techniques.

Comey told lawmakers Tuesday that authorities have been unable to access the mobile phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters because the device’s encryption is too stiff to pierce.

"We still have one of those killers’ phones that we have not been able to open,” he told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats.

Previously, he revealed that one of the shooters who attacked a May contest to draw the Prophet Mohammed in the Garland, Texas, exchanged 109 encrypted messages with overseas terrorists.

“We have no idea what he said, because those messages were encrypted,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in December.