NSA head: Encryption helped Paris attackers hide plans

NSA head: Encryption helped Paris attackers hide plans
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Encryption helped the Paris attackers hide from authorities before carrying out their deadly assault in November, said National Security Agency (NSA) Director Adm. Michael Rogers.

Rogers told Yahoo News “some of their communications were encrypted,” and as a result “we did not generate the insights ahead of time.”

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“Clearly had we known, Paris would not had happened,” he added. “We did not know we were not aware of it. Unfortunately we all saw the events unfold.”

The coordinated attacks left 130 people dead. The perpetrators were affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The incident has spurred a heated discussion over encryption standards.

Law enforcement officials say Paris is emblematic of a larger trend in which criminals and terrorists are using encryption to “go dark.” They believe companies should provide investigators with guaranteed access to secured data.

But the tech community has resisted, insisting such access would introduce vulnerabilities into devices that could be exploited by hackers. As a result, basic digital privacy and common Internet activities such as online banking could be at risk, they say.

Rogers has generally struck a middle ground in the debate, explaining that while encryption has hurt surveillance capabilities, it is also “foundational” to modern society.

“Is it harder for us to generate the kind of knowledge that I would like against some of these targets? Yes,” Rogers said. “Is that directly tied in part to changes they are making in their communications profiles? Yes. Does encryption make it much more difficult for us to execute our mission. Yes.”

“But,” he added, “I acknowledge that encryption is foundational to the future.

"I don’t think the argument is you’ve got to do away with encryption.”

Paris has also become a complicated example of the "going dark" phenomenon Rogers was discussing.

While Rogers and several former U.S. officials have claimed the terrorists behind the attack used encrypted platforms to communicate, French law enforcement has not made similar pronouncements.

Experts and officials do agree, however, that terrorist groups such as ISIS are increasingly using encrypted messaging apps, such as Telegram, to communicate.

Still, Rogers believes outlawing certain types of encryption, as some lawmakers have called for, is not the solution.

“I just don’t think it’s realistic,” he said.