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March 31st, 2016

Our ‘Breaking Encryption for the Man’ Poll

First it was the NSA, the FBI and every big city cop shop on the planet insisting we need legislation to force safe, secure and for their eyes only back doors in damn near every device on the planet, presumably including light switches, garbage disposals and dishwashers. Eventually they came to see that doors, hidden or not, are merely temptations for hackers to break on through, and just decided to go on the down low for a while so they could pull a sneak attack later when we least expect it, which is a favorite trick of government types.

[yop_poll id=”8″]

Then came the whole thing where the FBI wanted Apple to crack open an iPhone they could’ve cracked themselves if they hadn’t fixed it so they couldn’t. Tim Cook balked, either because he wanted to come across as squeaky clean so no one would suspect he’d already built back doors into OS X or because he does have some ethical standards hidden away somewhere which he occasionally remembers to use.

While the FBI was threatening Cook with serious time in the hoosegow if he didn’t cooperate, they met some guy at a bar who asked, “Man, what are you doing here?” When they explained their problem, he told them he could crack anything if they’d just buy another round or two, so having no other recourse, and because he worked cheaply enough, they gave him a try, and lo and behold he got them inside. This turned out to be a disappointment because there wasn’t any decent porn there, or evidence either, just fifteen or twenty copies of Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song,” which the FBI figured was kind of strange for a suspected dead terrorist.

So the young FBI agents told Apple they didn’t need them to crack the damn thing anymore and that they were off the hook, hoping to lull them into complacency so they could catch them off guard at a later date, which again is a favorite trick, and decided to go after this Guthrie fellow who seemed like he had the potential to be a dangerous cop killer.

Then they discovered the song was recorded in ’67 (meaning long ago, far away, excuse me), and had been popular with everyone but the FBI, who is still following him around, which is easier now since Arlo can no longer fly standby youth fare because he’s no longer between the age of 18 and 22, and is in fact so old that he hardly ever goes anywhere, which means all they have to do is live in their cars across the road from his house and occasionally follow him to the Kroger store.

Eventually someone smarter than the FBI came along and asked if they wanted to know a secret, and whispered in their ear that now the public knew they knew how to crack an iPhone, people might quit saving incriminating evidence on their phones, so the FBI slyly told the press that for some reason the method used to crack the phone wouldn’t work on any of Apple’s incredibly uncrackable phones except for that particular phone — not the model, but the phone itself — hoping that would lull the masses back to complacency, which is right where government types like the masses to be.

Although the heat was off, Apple’s Cook knew it was only a matter of time before they came back to be knock, knock, knocking on his door, so he asked his lawyer what he should do the next time the FBI came calling. His lawyer nearly fell off the floor. He said, “I never engaged in this kind of thing before.” Then he added, muttering to himself, “But yes I think it can be very easily done. We’ll just put some bleachers out in the sun and have it on Highway 61.”

Cook, being somewhat square, figured something was happening but he didn’t know what it was, so he asked, “Have what, exactly, out in the sun?”

The lawyer crossed himself and then clicked his high heels and without further notice he said, “A FOSS Force poll. Those freaks are geeks. They’ll know exactly what the appropriate response should be.”

And as the lawyer left to go find someone intelligent with whom to discuss lepers and crooks, Cook turned up the volume on his iPad as loud as it would go to listen to Fingerprint File, because he thought he suddenly understood what Jagger was talking about but he didn’t.

The lawyer, for some reason, seemed offended by the music. He stood at the doorway and said, “You should be made to wear earphones.”

Cook was confused. “It’s only rock ‘n roll,” he said.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

14 comments to Our ‘Breaking Encryption for the Man’ Poll

  • OVVYYYXXXX

    I need to ask a question on this site.

    How do we prevent ftp from our computer in Linux. Well, I don’t need somebody to copy files from my pc.

    I talk about computer with Linux, not server.

  • UncleEd

    I don’t want a pickle. I just wanna ride on my motor-sickle.

    We gotta be old. Wonder if anybody else reading this will admit to having heard it the first time around. Or to owning the album. Maybe the FBI agents who will be following you will know the ones who will be following me and we could do four-part harmony on

    You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
    You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
    Walk right in, it’s around the back,
    Just about a mile from the railroad track.
    You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.

  • Mike

    What we need are more companies implementing encryption so that not even they can breach it and the problem largely goes away.

    Apple bought themseleves this problem because of the way encryption is implmented on the iPhone. The encryption key is made from two parts: your pin (which is amll and easy to brute force) and a large unique hardware id locked away in the CPU and hard to get at without destroying the chip. This allowed Apple to present encryption to users with minimal inconvenience (a small pin instead of a big password) but at the cost of of it becoming vulnerable to cracking if the hardware key is accessbile. Theoretically Apple can do that so it was inevitable for the FBI to approach them. Although the FBI didn’t really want the data, just the legal precedent of being able to strong-arm companies into breaking customers’ encryption.

    Do encryption right and have user’s create longer passwords and the problem becomes the user’s and not the corporation’s.

    A side note of interest here is the dual use of pins and passwords to both lock screens and decrypt storage. These two things really shouldn’t be the same as they protect from very different types of attacks. A decryption key needs to be long an complex to resist repeated offline brute force attacks of millions of guesses per second. A screen lock pin doesn’t need anywhere near that complexity. A result of conflating these two things is that people want simple pins because who wants to enter a long password everytime your phone goes to sleep? They need to be spearated.

  • dgrb

    Think you might have mentioned that your quotes are not from Arlo Guthrie but from Bob Dylan.

  • @dgrb Why? There are also quotes from the Beatles, the Doors, Billy Joel, Nilsson and others in this piece.

  • tracyanne

    I voted Never, because 2 and 3 create precedents that any government will use to it’s advantage until always is the only option available.

  • Mike

    James Comey (FBI director) should be jailed for betraying the American people. He’s a threat to American freedom.

  • OVVYYYXXXX

    Well, we have some harsh words.

    What make me worry more are not: FBI, CIA, KGB. Mossad, ect…

    In todays world they have outside contractors and they give the work for them to handle it…
    Bad choice, bad choice, bad choice…
    … However those are just the group of people that are run by guverment and that is it. What makes me concerned that inside there are a lot of bad guys like anywhere else…

    Well, after prism and those that still ideas, and those that are…

    and after USA people have said that they don’t do it any more.

    There is no place for paranoia.

    Well it is around April fools day any way…

  • Eddie G.

    I’m probably going to get a lot of “feedback” for this (and I use that word lightly!!) But I feel that as long as citizens of ANY part of the world are in danger?…and only IF there is a chance that evidence on a device could PREVENT a tragedy?, then it should be ok for the country’s government to access a “suspected terrorists” device. Now before all the “Invasion Of Privacy / Violation Of Rights” people come at me, let me just make my case and then you can judge. Le’s go to the wonderful world of make believe for a second. Let’s “pretend” that somehow the government was able to “scan” the communications of anyone within the US, AND to intercept communications from overseas, do you think 9-11 would have still happened? What about the recent bombing in Brussels? What about all the other myriad terrorist attacks that took place throughout the world? See, I’m of the mind that while YOU might be protective of the chicken soup recipes you’re texting back and forth with your sister in Boise, Idaho, or while YOU might have apprehensive tendencies regarding the pics you took of your mother finally learning how to ski 4 years ago on the slopes of the Rockies, I don’t give a hoot if the government “sees” my messages from my son, telling me he finally got past that calculus test he was stressing over, I don’t care that the government knows I go to church every Friday night and sit texting my cousins during the service, I don’t give a DAMN if they know I’m a 44 yr old man with a 30 year old girlfriend! but I’ll tell you what: I WISH THEY HAD DONE THIS SNOOPING PRE-9/11….THEM MY FRIENDS WHO BOTH PERISHED THAT DAY?…WOULD BE ALIVE AND THE “SUSPECTED TERRORISTS”? WOULD BE IN PRISON SOMEWHERE, AND MY FRIENDS WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY!..(oh wait….I said that already!…my bad!) See?….I can understand the “Dystopian/Orson Wells” vibe attributed to giving the government too much power, and its like I said, it wouldn’t just be on a whim but there would have to be SERIOUS, LEADING, evidence that POINTS towards illegal terrorist (and ONLY terrorist!…..not interested in the drug dealers, because they’re only a threat to the governments wallet!) activities. Had this been the case years ago perhaps a lot of people who perished in various parts of the world would still be alive? I dunno, But that’s just how I see it, I might be “sacrificing” my freedoms a little but at least I wouldn’t have to visit two grave-sites and spend time with a widow every year……guess I’m totally biased and lean towards one direction on this particular topic. Sorry. But that’s how I see it. Ok….’nuff said.

  • Mike

    @Eddie G.

    Sorry for your loss.

    > “I WISH THEY HAD DONE THIS SNOOPING PRE-9/11”

    It’s been proven they WERE doing this snooping before 9/11. It didn’t change anything then. It hasn’t changed anything since. Mass surveillance is COMPLETELY INEFFECTIVE at preventing ANY crime, let alone terrorism. That’s the horrible truth they don’t want you to realize because it removes the need for mass surveillance…and that surveillance gives them power. There have been documented cases of mass collected data being used to prosecute people for unrelated-to-terrorism offenses by passing that information (illegally) to other law enforcement agencies and attempting to cover up its origin. It’s too much power for anyone to hold responsibly. The temptation and potential for abuse is far too great.

    If you don’t care about your privacy, how about posting all your passwords here? Surveillance collects a lot more than just innocuous conversations. The use of privileged placement within the internet backbone intercepts and decrypts traffic carrying banking, medical, and countless other types of traffic. That information could be used for blackmail and coercion to manipulate people regardless of the whether or not the information actually indicated any criminal activity.

    While you may not see giving in to mass surveillance as sacrificing your freedoms, many do…myself included.

  • tracyanne

    Not ‘Going Dark’: 15 Out Of 15 Most Recent EU Terrorists Were Known To The Authorities In Multiple Ways https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160331/09092134063/not-going-dark-15-out-15-most-recent-eu-terrorists-were-known-to-authorities-multiple-ways.shtml

    “Bulk Data Collection” aka Universal Surveillance didn’t stop any of these Terrorists, even though were well know to the authorities.

    “Breakable” encryption would have had no affect on their actions, as they never bothered to use encryption.

  • Mike

    One more thing, not often spoken about:

    Hypothetically even if you completely trusted the government to only ever use collected data for precisely the purpose they claimed, and all potential abuse is prevented (a fairytale, but we are speaking hypothetically here) there is one remaining issue that should strike fear in anyone:

    What happens when that enormous and practically complete data store is breached?

    Data stolen on a scale never before seen. Data altered to destroy companies and individuals alike. The innocent made to appear guilty and vice versa.

    No one should hold that information. It is the literal embodiment of putting all your eggs in one basket.

  • OVVYYYXXXX

    …Now we all know about people that work for g and they are corrupted …
    …This things are way to complex to be treated as a light subject…
    …However there are many many point views in this any way…

    …It looks like they are tacking some freedoms from people, and the terrorists do what they like to do… Well, almost…

    But there are issues like somebody is being spied and they stole some data, after that somebody makes PHD of it, and then some folks make stuff, they get rich and so on…

    It is like slavery modern way…