back to article Germany, France lobby hard for terror-busting encryption backdoors – Europe seems to agree

The tech industry has hit back at France and Germany's demands for EU laws requiring secret backdoors in file and communications encryption. Last week, Thomas de Maizière and Bruno Le Roux, respectively the German and French ministers of the interior, sent a letter to the European Commission calling for measures to stem what …

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  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Two options

    My old CS professor in high school had two ways of describing this*. They nicely summarize the answer at a "political" level of thinking as manifested by Mr Mazieres and his French counterpart.

    For the ladies: "My dear, there is no such thing as a little bit pregnant"

    For the gentlemen: "You cannot have your dick in both hands and your soul in paradise".

    In any case - they already share all criminal info via the Shengen database, I do not see WTF do they need to share on top of that.

    (*) You were pretty much guaranteed to hear one of these when a student failed to find the correct solution to some perverse variety of a "traveling salesman" via sorting, so he/she tried to do a mix of sorting and enumeration of all combinations

    1. WonkoTheSane
      Headmaster

      Re: Two options

      Option 3: One agency's backdoor is the entire black hat community's catflap.

      1. Baldy50

        Re: Two options

        This subject has come up before and when they leak the code it's a shit storm for us all which they will cos somebody will leave a laptop or other device on a train or somewhere or it gets nicked and possibly they will get hacked because the reward for doing so would be so tempting and lucrative so every black hat and unscrupulous gov will be after it.

        If they do this then it's Whonix or Tails on a separate machine and an air-gapped machine for personal stuff, nothing stored on the online machine, working offline on another machine would be the only way to be safe and could have a big impact on retail sales online if people lose trust in the security of the systems they use.

        Once the OS and all the software programs you need are installed and working who needs security updates?

        If it's air gapped till the next re-install, maybe years later and no Wi-Fi card in it too.

        I mean, not that I'm going to, but if I ordered a 12" black ribbed nobler I'd want it kept a secret (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) reference, good film.

        These guys are supposed to be very good but like all the other stories I've read over the years, nobody gives a shit about your info or data than you and sometimes we can't be trusted either.

        I think I have all my immediate families CV's, photos and stuff backed up on my main machine, there's no way I'm leaving a machine online with all that info on it, put that shit in a caddy and only plug it when needed.

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4893132,00.html

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Two options

          If there was a government known backdoor, that information would be sold within days and used by blackhats for years. Government would never admit to it being "in the wild" and blackhats would have no reason to disclose they had access to it.

          Public is then stuck, as usual with the illusion of security.

          1. BillG Silver badge
            Stop

            Re: Two options

            This isn't about national security. This is about the government wanting to pry into your business without a warrant, period.

        2. FSM

          Re: Two options

          That's actually a Red Dwarf reference. You're thinking of the '15" black rubber cock' that Hatchet Harry beats poor Smithy to death with.

          But otherwise, well put!

          1. creepy gecko

            Re: Two options

            Listen to this one then; you open a company called the Arse Tickler's Faggot Fan Club. You take an advert in the back page of some gay mag, advertising the latest in arse-intruding dildos, sell it a bit with, er... I dunno, "does what no other dildo can do until now", latest and greatest in sexual technology. Guaranteed results or money back, all that bollocks. These dills cost twenty-five each; a snip for all the pleasure they are going to give the recipients. They send a cheque to the company name, nothing offensive, er, Bobbie's Bits or something, for twenty-five. You put these in the bank for two weeks and let them clear. Now this is the clever bit. Then you send back the cheques for twenty-five pounds from the real company name, Arse Tickler's Faggot Fan Club, saying sorry, we couldn't get the supply from America, they have sold out. Now you see how many of the people cash those cheques; not a single soul, because who wants his bank manager to know he tickles arses when he is not paying in cheques!

            From IMDB...Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels... quotes

            1. BillG Silver badge
              Mushroom

              Re: Two options

              @creepy gecko wrote: Then you send back the cheques for twenty-five pounds from the real company name, Arse Tickler's...

              I know someone who did this back in the 1970's, and it was in women's magazines. But you left out the most important part - the cheque you send back is a big, oversized cheque in gaudy pink with the company name in large, bold letters, and expires in 30 days. Back before ATMs (remember, kids?) you had to go to the teller to cash these cheques.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "One agency's backdoor is the entire black hat community's catflap."

        Apparently this concept is too subtle and sophisticated for European (or even USian) leaders and civil servants to grasp.

        The usual reply is "You're smart people, you'll figure it out."

        It seems when the "smart" people tell them it can't be done they don't think they are so smart.

        At heart those is the dream of cops and spooks everywhere to be able to look at what they like, when they like without any kind of due process or oversight.

      3. TheVogon Silver badge

        Re: Two options

        "catflap"

        Gate to elephant house I think you mean.

        Presumably those that care would simply avoid the "compliant" encryption anyway and use stuff that is actually secure....

      4. Someone Else Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: Two options

        This is probably going to be politically incorrect, and/or just crass, but ...

        Making a backdoor available in security is the digital equivalent of making a backdoor available in sex.

  2. DavCrav Silver badge

    Obviously these people don't understand what's going on, so why doesn't someone give them an analogy?

    What they want is equivalent to car companies producing a Master Key, one that will work on any car anywhere in the world. How exactly do we stop criminals stealing, copying or making another Master Key?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Better still - make those two come up with a workable solution, one that is passed by those with knowledge in the technical community. Start by laying down the simple rules such as:

      (1) that it must remain secure against other nations and any criminals

      (2) be scalable and applicable to open-source projects like web browsers, etc

      (3) cost less than 0.1 Euro per user to develop, implement and manage.

      Should keep them occupied until the heat death of the universe...

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      It's simply electioneering as both Germany and France have national elections this year. They will have been properly briefed by the experts in their departments and decided to publish anyway: this is the right of politicians.

      Elsewhere the German government is planning that immigrants be forced to hand over their mobile phones when they arrive, ie. infringe their constitutional right to privacy. So, this will obviously be struck down by the constitutional court as, unlike the US, the German constitution doesn't differentiate between German and foreign citizens. Doesn't matter because that will take some time and in the meantime it looks tough.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        They will have been properly briefed by the experts in their departments and decided to publish anyway: this is the right of politicians.

        It is indeed their right to misrepresent reality to the electorate, and they deserve a public slapping for choosing to do so.

        1. Someone Else Silver badge
          Devil

          @Rich 11 --

          They will have been properly briefed by the experts in their departments and decided to publish anyway: this is the right of politicians.

          The EU is now getting its first taste of "alternative facts".

          "Welcome to the NFL, kid!"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's simply electioneering as both Germany and France have national elections this year. They will have been properly briefed by the experts in their departments and decided to publish anyway: this is the right of politicians.

        Exactly. This has zero to do with what is realistically possible, it's politics, and in politics you can now say and promise anything you want because those who can actually *USE* their brain and examine the facts will simply be accused of spreading Fake News.

        From the article: As has been pointed out many times, it isn't mathematically or technologically possible to build a backdoor into encryption that is completely exclusive to a select set of people, and can't be found and exploited by others. The only way under today's technology would be to have a key escrow system, and that would fall down if someone with access to the keys were to be bribed or coerced into handing them over.

        The funny thing is, even the heads of collaborative agencies are now quite happy with going on public record that a backdoor is (a) nonsense and (b) impossible without causing more risk rather than less so whichever idiot is now starting to espouse this desire is wilfully demanding something that is impossible to do. Or, put another way, we have another few wannabe Trumps here.

        I'd be careful: these people know there's one borne every minute, and they have no compunction of lying through their teeth to get their vote. We now get to experience what 1933 must have felt like - I just hope we lose these people within the 6 years it took that other chap to *really* start causing trouble. I really don't think we can afford another World War.

        1. veti Silver badge

          The reason we have "wannabe Trumps" now popping up all over the place is, Trump has shown them all that it can be done. Fascism does work.

          That man has done real, quite possibly terminal, damage to democracy as practised in the Western world for the past 75 years.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            #OscarsSoWhite, really?

            > Trump a fascist talking point

            Oh my how tired.

            "That man has done real, quite possibly terminal, damage to democracy as practised in the Western world for the past 75 years."

            It's not The God Emperor. "Democracy" has been raped silly by Clinton and Bush. Then dealt a terminal blow by the legendary black actor "Obama The Establishment Construct" in his role as sassy, at-ease POTUS.

            Always remember that people didn't vote for Trump, but against Hillary. And for good reason.

            1. d3vy Silver badge

              Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

              "Always remember that people didn't vote for Trump, but against Hillary. And for good reason"

              That's a bit like shitting in your own hand and throwing it at some one. No one wins in that scenario, Ok Clinton didn't win, but trump did.

              Can we really class that as a victory?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

                "Ok Clinton didn't win, but trump did.

                Can we really class that as a victory?"

                Reverse the outcome and your analogy still fits...

                There was no way to win...

                1. Roj Blake Silver badge

                  Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

                  Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos

                  - H.J. Simpson.

                  1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

                    Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

                    "It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see..."

                    "You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"

                    "No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."

                    "Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."

                    "I did," said Ford. "It is."

                    "So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't people get rid of the lizards?"

                    "It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."

                    "You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"

                    "Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."

                    "But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"

                    "Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"

                    "What?"

                    "I said," said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, "have you got any gin?"

                    "I'll look. Tell me about the lizards."

                    Ford shrugged again.

                    "Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them," he said. "They're completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone's got to say it."

                    "But that's terrible," said Arthur.

                    "Listen, bud," said Ford, "if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say 'That's terrible' I wouldn't be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin."

                    ― Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

                      "Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them," he said. "They're completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone's got to say it."

                      OMG - so THAT's how Trump got in. It all makes sense now. Well, ~ish..

                  2. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

                    Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos

                    For a moment I thought you meant this one, but no. Still, enjoy ze bad Englizsh :).

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

              Always remember that people didn't vote for Trump, but against Hillary. And for good reason.

              Given that it's not actually possible to cast a vote against someone, it appears they got what they deserved. It's just a shame they can't go and live somewhere separate from people who DO use their brain.

            3. veti Silver badge

              Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

              Look, when I call Trump a fascist, I'm not trying to insult him. I'm just calling him like he very clearly is.

              "Fascism" has many definitions. For instance, Umberto Eco lists 14 characteristics:

              - "The cult of tradition" - four words, "Make America Great Again"

              - "The rejection of modernism" - "global warming HOAX", removal of experts from council of advisors

              - "The cult of action for action's sake" - as in, hastily and poorly written executive orders

              - "Disagreement is treason" - "the dishonest media is a great danger to our country"

              - "Fear of difference" - Google "Mohammed Ali Jr"

              - "Appeal to a frustrated middle class" - "The forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again"

              - "Obsession with a plot and talking-up of an enemy threat" - "bad hombres", "figure out what's going on over there"

              And so on. The man ticks at least 12 of the 14 boxes.

              Or to consider another definition (Roger Griffin):

              [F]ascism is best defined as a revolutionary form of nationalism, one that sets out to be a political, social and ethical revolution, welding the ‘people’ into a dynamic national community under new elites infused with heroic values. The core myth that inspires this project is that only a populist, trans-class movement of purifying, cathartic national rebirth (palingenesis) can stem the tide of decadence

              Ernest Nolte:

              "Fascism is anti-Marxism which seeks to destroy the enemy by the evolvement of a radically opposed and yet related ideology and by the use of almost identical and yet typically modified methods, always, however, within the unyielding framework of national self-assertion and autonomy."

              Kevin Passmore:

              Fascism is a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty, and to create a mobilized national community. Fascist nationalism is reactionary in that it entails implacable hostility to socialism and feminism, for they are seen as prioritizing class or gender rather than nation.

              Robert Paxton:

              A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity

              Seriously, how can you claim he's anything but a fascist?

              1. PNGuinn Silver badge
                Mushroom

                Politics is a pear

                Politics may be considered as a pear. The "moderate" parties are all clustered around the wide base of the pear and up its sides. Political gravity tends to drag them all down to the bottom of the pear. (In more ways than one.)

                Much time is wasted as doctorates are forged attempting to define the centre of gravity of the bottom of the pit that is at bottom of the pear.

                More sincereish parties try to clamber over the sludge at the bottom / bottom feeders to present a different option. Covered with the slime of the moral compromise below they attempt to cling to various bits of the side of the pear, These reinventors of the political wheel are usually described as "fascist" by the self serving bottom feeding scum and the equally self serving media leaches, many of which totally lost all their integrity writing political theses before sliding down nose first into the trough at the bottom

                Close together owards the ever narrowing top of the pear you find the real extremists. They, at least, have rejected all ideas of democracy, although many have used it as a means to get to where they now cling. They tend to divide into two essentially almost identical groups, but will claim to be totally different, and hate each other almost absolutely. Pathologically antisocial, they often have the words "democratic" and "socialist" in their names.

                OK, invent a better model of political reality.

              2. dbtx Bronze badge

                Re: #OscarsSoWhite, really?

                "Seriously, how can you claim he's anything but a fascist?"

                I can rather easily claim he's a minor annoyance at least, or a symptom of severe antitruth contamination at worst. It's kinda business as usual-- the USA is a religion I stopped subscribing to a long time ago. I'm still here mainly because escape velocity is hard.

          2. fajensen Silver badge
            Coat

            That man has done real, quite possibly terminal, damage to democracy as practiced in the Western world for the past 75 years.

            I highly doubt that .Both the damage and that "we?" have been practicing democracy in the same way for 75 years. Because, if we had, the entire middle east would be totally bombed into rubble by now and all of the worlds goods, resources and services would belong to 5 people. The neoliberal rot only started around 1975 so imagine what they could do with almost 40 years more of that crap?

            Maybe "democracy" should take the election of Donald Trump as a warning and begin getting its shit together and start delivering something more than bennies for the rich and connected and austerity with migrants on top for everyone else?

    3. James 51 Silver badge

      The TSA already has this for luggage and they don't care if their own people steal stuff or other criminals steal stuff as long as you can't secure it against them. Lets face it. Politicians and law enforcement don't care if you're robbed blind or blackmailed with embarrassing information by someone as long as they can do it too and those other people don't step in their toes. If you start painting it as they are weak on security, weak on crime and they want to make it possible to Russia, China and North Korea to steal everything in sight that might get a little back pedalling but not much.

    4. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Might as well also point them in the direction of the TSA and their luggage lock master keys.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_Security_Administration#Luggage_locks

      https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2015/09/tsa_master_keys.html

      https://imgur.com/a/JQD7l

      I mean it's not like there are CAD plans for those keys that can be 3D printed now is it!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Might as well also point them in the direction of the TSA and their luggage lock master keys.

        Yup. I have a slide I use in presentations which has a picture of 7 TSA master keys. It tends to upset officials asking for backdoors :)

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "How exactly do we stop criminals stealing, copying or making another Master Key?"

      dont forget, how does the population revoke the master key when the judiciary decides its being abused by the executive branch of government.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        The reason we have "wannabe Trumps" now popping up all over the place is, Trump has shown them all that it can be done. Fascism does work.

        That man has done real, quite possibly terminal, damage to democracy as practised in the Western world for the past 75 years.

        No, the reason these people exist is because for over a decade problems have existed which have not been adequately addressed in the view of a large percentage of the population, and discussions on an ever increasing number of subjects have been supressed with accusations of thought crime! to reduce allowed debate to "what we agree with", along with tactics of "your either with us or against us!".

        This is what has caused severe and lasting damage to democracy. It worked for years, but there are now more people who say, "screw this, I'm against you at any cost" then can passively agree to be "with you" any longer.

        Instead of admit there is a problem and actually deal with it by reasoned debate, the same people who created the problem double down on the thought crime accusations, and define everybody who disagrees with them as being bigoted, fascist etc.

        By the dictionary definition of the term, a bigot is somebody who refuses to accept contrary views. If your frequently insulting something like two thirds of the population because you don't like their views then sorry to be the one to break it to you, but your actually the bigot by the dictionary definition of the term. (Until it's redefined in the next issue of newspeak)

        If people keep redefining what fascism actually is to the point it's just casually tossed at people who disagree with you on political issues then it renders the term meaningless and makes it difficult to actually identify or oppose genuine dictators because the label has been casually applied to basically half the frigging planet!

        THAT!!! is why you have Trump. That's why Britain is leaving the EU following a free vote. It's simply a political expression of "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" because the people at the political extreme fringes are the only remaining effective opposition to support. You don't like it? Then accept that not everybody who disagrees with you is a Thought-crime-ist and for goodness sake allow people to moderately disagree with you.

        If you do, then a rebuilt political centre will naturally suck off the people who are simply supporting trump etc as an "anybody else" option and we can return to a more sane political environment. If you don't, people like Trump will become the political centre.

    6. Someone Else Silver badge
      Coat

      You actually think your bog-standard bureaucrat is going to understand even that? My, my, you're a trusting soul....

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "You actually think your bog-standard bureaucrat is going to understand even that? My, my, you're a trusting soul...."

        Well, you gotta trust SOMEONE. Otherwise, civilization can't function and we're basically in Anarchy Mode...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Whats wrong with giving the keys to Law enforcement?

    It's not like they will get into the public domain and a free for all can happen is it? I mean we've had backdoor TSA keys on luggage with out it ever happening.

    What's that Skippy?

    https://techcrunch.com/2016/07/27/security-experts-have-cloned-all-seven-tsa-master-keys/

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Whats wrong with giving the keys to Law enforcement?

      "It's not like they will get into the public domain and a free for all can happen is it? I mean we've had backdoor TSA keys on luggage with out it ever happening."

      It wasn't as if I didn't know the locks weren't any serious form of security. They're just there to keep the latches or zippers opening accidentally and dumping your contents. A serious thief wouldn't care about breaking the suitcase to rummage or simply taking the whole thing since by the time you find out they'll be long gone.

  4. LDS Silver badge

    Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

    ... and you soon understand they have no idea of what encryption is and how it works. The very issue is this is highly technical matters - requiring a deep, advanced knowledge of mathematics - and are in the hands of people who studied law (where even basic logic is often turned upside down) or in the best case economics - an area where some mathematics is bent to "prove" theories that usually crumble at the next crisis... (Hari Seldon is not born yet...).

    Just., they will never admit they have no clue about what they're talking about - otherwise they wouldn't be politicians.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

      "[...] an area where some mathematics is bent to "prove" theories that usually crumble at the next crisis... (Hari Seldon is not born yet...)."

      Even he failed to predict the temporary, but significant, glitch that was "The Mule".

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Hari Seldon is not born yet...

        "Even he failed to predict the temporary, but significant, glitch that was "The Mule"."

        Although he did predict that there was always room for an anomaly to have a wider impact than anticipated, hence the creation of the second foundation :)

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

      We can't expect them to handle the complex mathematics on which encryption is based (neither can most of us, I suspect; certainly not me) but maybe we could devise a simpler mathematical model to play with. I suggest a block with a 5-sided hole labelled "Back door" and a 6-sided peg labelled "Security Fit For Internet Banking". The objective is to fit them together.

      1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

        Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

        > I suggest a block with a 5-sided hole labelled "Back door" and a 6-sided peg labelled "Security Fit For

        > Internet Banking". The objective is to fit them together.

        If it doesn't fit, Get A Bigger Hammer...

      2. PNGuinn Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

        Might I humbly suggest a geometrically simpler model they might be better able to understand?

        Consider a piece of rough hewn timber with 3 holes bored in it, split down the middle, and securely mounted horizontally to a post a few feet off the ground.

        The horizontal split timber is mounted hinged at one end, with a secure clasp at the other with the holes also horizontal.

        Polly's scrawny neck goes into larger centre hole, arms through outer two.

        Clamp 'em shut, lock 'er up and chuck the key down the nearest cess pit.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

            And as for the stocks, people can be crazed enough to break out of them (even if it takes ripping the whole thing out of the ground). Heck, I suspect someday someone will react to the prospect of caning in Singapore by showing so much strength of desperation they'll be forced into deadly force.

      3. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

        "We can't expect them to handle the complex mathematics on which encryption is based (neither can most of us, I suspect; certainly not me) "

        I can. I'm a professional mathematician.

        It can't be done.

        But what do I know, I'm only an expert.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. agatum

        Re: Just look at where and what the two ministers studied....

        p.s. Asimov spoiler alert! I thought Hari Seldon set up the Second Foundation to mitigate against stuff like the Mule?

        Spoiler alert! Yes, he did.

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