Cracking down on encryption: opening the front door

header image post cryptography
Thursday, September 12, 2019

Collaborative post with Ku Leuven

Author: WIM VANDEVELDE (KU Leuven)

Strong encryption is a necessity for guaranteeing the privacy and security of individuals and their digital communications. However, as recent times have shown, governments are not too keen on ensuring and preserving strong encryption. Looking at the political and legislative trend around the world, it seems that countries are increasingly cracking down on encryption.

The role of encryption in our daily lives

In layman’s terms, encryption is a technique that aims to secure information by making it exclusively accessible through the use of a specific key (the decryption key). When a piece of information (the plaintext) is encrypted, it will take the form of an unreadable version of that information (the ciphertext). A specific decryption key can then be used to reverse this process, allowing access to the readable plaintext, thus revealing the original information.

The relevance of encryption in our daily lives cannot be underestimated as it plays an essential role in keeping our information secure in an online environment. To give an idea, encryption secures your financial information and transactions when banking online or your messages and conversations sent via WhatsApp. Encryption not only protects our privacy, but it also protects valuable information and assets from theft or destruction. On top of this, we are moving quickly towards an interconnected society through the expansion of the Internet of Things. There are many critical sectors and infrastructures that rely on encryption for protection. Our energy systems, communications networks, financial systems, transport systems, etc. could be an easy target for malicious actors in absence of strong encryption. Such a scenario could not only cause damage to property, but could also endanger human lives that rely on these infrastructures.