Earlier this week word surfaced that the US Drug Enforcement Administration warned its employees that gathering intelligence on Apple devices would be difficult.
It seems Apple's use of encrypted connections for iMessages transmissions easily thwarts the eavesdropping methods normally used for investigations.
While the DEA gave no indication of any efforts to thwart the technology or force Apple to build in a back door for law enforcement, the use of encryption technologies has long been a complicated and contentious issue for governments.
Encryption, of course, played a huge role in the emergence of the computing space. The heroic efforts of engineers at Bletchley Park saved countless lives in World War II and brought about the emergence of the electronic computer as a tool for codebreaking.
As the post-war period turned to the Cold War, encryption evolved into an essential tool for the booming espionage sectors. With surveillance teams intent on gathering vital strategic information, both sides invested heavily in encryption tools.
As a result, encryption platforms became a closely-guarded secret, and the mathematicians and engineers who came up with the standards were themselves subject to strict government surveillance and control. Encryption icons such as Whit Diffie and Adi Shamir still joke about the intense and sometimes strange protections placed on early encryption platforms.
When the war ended and the PC emerged as a business tool, those restrictions became an issue. The tight restrictions hampered the export of technologies and lead to an outcry from businesses and developers alike. Only in 2000 did the US fully repeal most of its controls over the distribution of encryption.
Even today, however, the spread and use of encryption remains an international issue. Many regimes who want tighter control over surveillance activities are asking vendors to dial back their use of encrypted connections.
This will only become a bigger concern as the threat landscape is reshaped by APTs and industrial espionage. Worries over loss of trade secrets will increase the demand for better encryption in the private sector, something which may become a major issue in emerging regions where tight authoritarian control from the state is still going strong.
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