UK minister calls for encryption backdoors after London attack

UK minister calls for encryption backdoors after London attack
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British Home Secretary Amber Rudd called encrypted apps "completely unacceptable" on a BBC Sunday talk show in the wake of last week's Westminster attack — one of multiple official appearances to call for encryption backdoors.

"We need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into encrypted systems like WhatsApp," Rudd said on "The Andrew Marr Show."

Police investigating last week's slaying of four people on the Westminster Bridge in London believe Khalid Masood acted alone in the attack, driving a car into pedestrians and stabbing a police officer to death. Officers shot him dead on the scene. 

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Newspapers have reported that Masood, who grew up in Kent, England, used the encrypted chatting app "WhatsApp," which is encrypted in a way so that police cannot retrieve messages without his password. 

Law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom and United States have called for technology companies to create methods for police to decrypt messages without needing a password. James Comey, the director of the FBI, advocated for an international framework to create these backdoors in encryption as recently as last week. 

Security experts nearly unanimously agree that any such action would be fraught with security problems and would likely not be successful. Encryption is based on mathematics already in the public domain, and many encryption apps are designed and sold outside the jurisdiction of any particular country.

Likewise, experts agree that adding new ways to access encrypted messages will provide new spots for hackers to attack. Beyond hackers doing their own research, the WikiLeaks leaks of CIA hacking methods and ShadowBrokers leaks of National Security Agency hacking methods — both within the last year — raise doubts as to whether or not governments, including less sophisticated governments, will be able to keep these access techniques hidden. 

Encryption is vital for online banking and commerce, protecting customer personal information from being stolen during breaches, and other tasks. 

Comey, however, notes that unbreakable encryption creates a potential blind spot where evidence cannot be collected. 

The bipartisan House Encryption Working Group released a report last year recognizing the difficulty of the situation but determining that the costs of encryption backdoors outweighed the benefits.  

That may be small comfort for London, still reeling from last week's attack.  

"There should be no place for terrorists to hide," said Rudd.