back to article Here we go again... UK Prime Minister urges nerds to come up with magic crypto backdoors

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has reiterated calls for a special magic version of encryption to be developed by technologists so law enforcement can access everyone's communications on demand – and somehow engineer it so that no one else can abuse this backdoor. Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland …


  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time to fix the real problem

    People keep trying to elect politicians that don't like or spew BS out their mouth when they open it.

    Time to elect retired farmers and techs into politics. Clearly career politicians are to stupid and commonsense has been bread out of them.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Time to fix the real problem

      I think the problem behind the problem is that the only people who are willing to go into politics are the kind of people only in it for themselves. IOW, sociopaths. Anyone else wouldn't have the faintest interest and instead have other plans. Any attempt to draft politicians out of the populace thus runs into the familiar retort: what about my business/crops/whatever?

  2. elgarak1

    Here's the thing those politicians do not understand: It is possible for anyone to employ secure, effectively unbreakable, encryption. If one is about to do serious crime, any law to require 'breakable encryption' will be a lesser one to break, so the criminal does not care about that.

    Hence, you as a politician CANNOT make an argument that such a law is required in order to fight crime. It won't work. The ones you argue to try to catch you WILL NOT be able to catch this way. You DO NOT have a rational argument for it. The math for such encryption is out there. The genie's out of the bottle.

    Stop using this argument. Stop demanding the impossible.

    Because, if you do not stop to make that argument, you either reveal yourself to be ignorant, or evil/autocratic/dictatorial/un-democratic.

    1. Rob D. Bronze badge

      Probably just as well May didn't demand any of that in the speech (according to the transcript referenced in the article). Past history of relative lack of knowledge notwithstanding and even if these things may yet appear in future speeches by this or other politicians, neither that argument nor the subject of encryption, nor cryptography, nor digital comms security actually appear in the speech.

    2. elgarak1

      To beat this dead horse another way:

      Politician/High LE Official: "There are devices and apps out there with encryption we cannot crack! Stop making them!"

      So you KNOW unbreakable encryption is out there. HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU EXPECT BAD GUYS TO STOP USING IT? Just because you tell them?

      So it's clear you want to have it not to catch bad guys. Ergo, you're evil. Undemocratic. Fascist. Autocratic. Tyrannic. Take your pick. Do you expect to win elections this way? Or that you can spy on the ones you want to spy on? That is, us. The nerds. The ones who know. Who speak up. Who resist. Who will not elect you even if hell freezes over. Who will continue to use and develop safe software and devices. Safe from criminals. Safe from you.

      Give it up. You have lost.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "So you KNOW unbreakable encryption is out there. HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU EXPECT BAD GUYS TO STOP USING IT? Just because you tell them?"

        Just detect its use or it's seeming thereof and bust them that way. It may be unbreakable, but it's still not UNDETECTABLE. If there can be a provably unbreakable AND undetectable encryption system that gets released to the public, then civilization as we know it is probably doomed.

        "Do you expect to win elections this way?"

        Can, will, AND HAVE. You underestimate the stupidity of the average citizen/subject.

        "Give it up. You have lost."

        No, YOU give up. There aren't enough of you left to matter.

  3. Spangle

    I was under the impression that the current strategy was to compromise the device. Which will be a lot easier with the manufacturers/ service providers assistance. All that bloatware on your phone slightly modified with a backdoor. No mathematical problems. And when the draft legislation becomes live, it will be the law that your service provider supplies that functionality.

  4. oral_suspension

    You're missing the point

    May may be technically illiterate but she is fully aware of the impossibility of what she is demanding. And that is not the point. This is a political strategy

    This gives the government and security services a way of denying responsibility whenever bad and scary things happen (terrorist attacks, organised crime, cybercrime, etc.)

    It stokes the fear of these bad and scary things, thus broadly justifying current (and future) surveillance programmes and crucially whatever other increased powers they think they may be able to get (suspension of habeas corpus, detention without trial, etc, etc, i.e. whatever is coming in the next national security bill).

    It can be used as a distraction from things which they would rather the public does not notice.

    And, as they will (probably) never force tech companies to provide the proposed backdoors and crypto is not going away, they can use this ruse at any time for the foreseeable future.

    Technically it looks moronic. Politically it is a workable (if morally dodgy) strategy.

  5. Rob D. Bronze badge

    Clickbait headline? Surely not.

    Does it matter that according to the speech transcript, the words 'encrypt' or 'encryption' or 'cryptography' were not mentioned once? Or that the words 'security' or 'secure' were never used in the context of digital communications?

    The standard exhortation to big tech to 'do more', the invocation of AI with a slight tone of awe, and the phrase, "just think of the children" (almost), all appeared in the speech and since the politicians really haven't got a good track record on this area a healthy skepticism is valuable.

    But the headline and content demonstrated more about assumed content suitable for generating online hits rather than thoughtful reporting and analysis. Maybe I was expecting too much.

  6. This Side Up
    Big Brother

    Back door and not back door

    "... there is a way to both have a backdoor and not have a backdoor ..."

    No problem.

    Just don't open the box.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lesson of History

    When Station X systematically cracked Engima, they kept it quiet for around 25 years. During that period of time a Swiss company sold an updated Engima until the mid/late 1960's. All encrypted messages were decipherable.

    In the early 1990s military grade encryption was 8196 bit PKI, in twenty + plus years we are still using 2048 bit encryption, cpu processing performance has improved but security standards have not.

    A case in point while do all Firewalls come with some form of DES encryption, what is worse that someone people actually use it.

    Just because the PM stands and wants encryption backdoors does not mean that GCHQ actually need them, the police might however.

    1. John Sanders

      Re: Lesson of History

      The problem is that once the Police have them, it would be very convenient for HMRC, the local Council to have a copy, and once we get to that point, we end with the same disaster that happened to Symantec PKI infrastructure, every man and his dog will have a copy of the root CA.

      1. Asterix the Gaul

        Re: Lesson of History

        ALL government Departments,local or central, have existing sweeping powers to access all the data they ever need on all of us.

        It's called, 'CONNECT', which links all departmental data on every individual accessing government services,local or centrally,as well as utility,banking,telephone,broadband,emails, doctors,hospitals et'c.

        East Germany before unification had nothing like what your 'democratic' government has by way of 'exploit' tools at it's disposal.

        You don't think that GCHQ is there for our benefit do you?

        I haven't even got round to the 'military' tools used by 'your' government.

  8. hellwig Silver badge
    Big Brother


    Correct me if I'm wrong, but people have known how to secretly communicate in the open for a long time now. Blanket keyword searching only catches people stupid enough to use the keywords.

    A message about grandmas oatmeal cookie recipe could easily be code for some nefarious plot, but good luck detecting that with your fancy AI that can barely read a Wikipedia article.

    Heck, the AC posts on this site might actually be some underground terrorist organization plotting their next attack.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Cyphers

      "A message about grandmas oatmeal cookie recipe could easily be code for some nefarious plot, but good luck detecting that with your fancy AI that can barely read a Wikipedia article."

      But you have to establish the code beforehand (First Contact problem), raising the possibility of moles. Unless you can demonstrate a zero-knowledge code.

      1. hellwig Silver badge

        Re: Cyphers

        True, so recruiting people online from other countries might be hard, which is where traditional methods of contact come into play (phone, post, pigeon, all the P's), and why these security agencies still need to do the old-fashioned leg work.

        Basically, if I was fighting against the "western powers", I would already not trust the technology they produce.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Cyphers

          "Basically, if I was fighting against the "western powers", I would already not trust the technology they produce."

          Trouble is, no other power is any cleaner. You're basically painting yourself into the dreaded DTA corner, since you can't even trust YOURSELF to do it right, either.

  9. John Sanders

    >>>"We need cross-industry responses because smaller platforms can quickly become home to criminals and terrorists, "

    No, we need to stop both importing and them breeding them here.

    But it is easier to burden the law-abiding citizens who just shrug and behave like the good obedient cowards that they are isn't?

  10. spellucci

    How Hard Can It Be?

    Not original, but I cannot find the original author:

    If we can land a man on the moon, surely if we put our minds to it we can land a man on the sun.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: How Hard Can It Be?

      There's an old soviet joke along those lines...

      After Gagarin's flight, the politburo considers sending a cosmonaut to the sun. When Korolev politely and diplomatically suggests that the sun's immense heat might represent a bit of a problem, they tell him "Comrade Sergei Pavlovich, the politburo is not made of out of idiots. The cosmonaut will fly at night, of course."

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    She'll be asking for a backdoor for quantum encryption next....

  12. Supa

    May's wide open backdoor

    She wants to break encryption, because she took the batteries out, rubbed them together in her hands and put them back in and it never worked!

    It's obvious that the government want to break encryption, then they can add it to the list of everything else they have broke in the UK.

  13. Jonathan 27 Bronze badge

    I'm willing to head a team to develop this new magic encryption technology. We'll need complete autonomy and £200,000,000.

    P.S. Who wants in on the scam?

    1. Uffish


      There was a scam in France involving a multinational oil company and the French President (who was of course proven by a specially convened parliamentary commission to be completely innocent). It was something to do with a plane being equipped with devices to detect and map oil deposits deep in the ground. The scam lasted for four years or so and cost millions.

      Like backdoors, the whole sorry story was first a rumour, then a coverup and finally (almost) everything was published.

    2. elgarak1

      Only if get, in writing, a waiver from any liability.

  14. Jon Smit

    She only wants a WotsApp backdoor

    So she can check up on what Boris is up to on his sekrit group.

  15. Dr Don

    Remedial Mathematics Lessons

    Dr Don

    Yet again our mathematically challenged, technologically illiterate, over promoted geography teacher of

    a Prime Minister demonstrates that she is in dire need of some remedial mathematics lessons.

    This is also true of our beloved Home Secretary, Camber Crud, Oop's I got that wrong its Amber Rudd.

  16. JaitcH

    MAY - Still Dumb After All These Years

    As Home Secretary this ignoramus was responsible for the GCHQ to Parliament. One of her pet pursuits was "backdoors" and the 'need' for them.

    Obviously neither time nor promotions has taught her anything but, as the Peter Principle goes, "managers rise to the level of their incompetence".

    Thank goodness her next promotion is ignominy and a fade to black.

  17. steviebuk Silver badge

    Same old

    She's an idiot if she doesn't think that once she creates (which will never happen) a backdoor in big apps or small apps. The terroist will just make their own end to end encrypted apps that they won't be able to control.

    Clueless MPs as always.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I raise you a Japanese Character Cipher

    A little late to the party on this one, but...

  19. Rob D. Bronze badge


    To the stream of commentards on here about what May was supposed to have discussed but that she never actually raised in the speech in Davos - namely anything to do with actual encryption or even secure communications. Everyone is cordially invited to the 'Trust Everything I Say, My Story Is About Something You Already Believe' club.

    It's a shame that dog-whistle stories headlined like this can draw such a credulous following into the echo chamber.

    For those who remain convinced it is implausible that a politician isn't guilty of the folly they are charged with, even if they or their colleagues have previously been guilty of it in the past, feel free to go and read the actual speech transcript referenced in this article. Who knows, maybe the situation is improving a bit here (a vain hope which no doubt will last until the next speech on the subject from a government minister).

    1. oldrusty
      Thumb Up

      Re: Congratulations

      Yeap her speech didn't even broach on the subject of Cryptography but as an earlier poster already pointed out the answer is still "No!" not unless you want anarchy, encryption is the clue that hold's it all together & stop's bad people from doing bad things. Digital Signage is crucial and at the moment it's undergoing some much needed radical change. "We shall not be moved!" after all you have to capture packets with a packet capture driver and a proper firewall on your computer in the first place, if your goal is catching bad guys and bad code - doing bad things.

    2. HieronymusBloggs Silver badge

      Re: Congratulations

      "never actually raised in the speech in Davos - namely anything to do with actual encryption or even secure communications"

      She mentioned Telegram specifically. What aspect of that service other than encrypted communication would she have been referring to?

  20. something_or_another

    Just sprinkle on a little pepper.

    They'll just push everyone to become a little more creative.

    Take GPG. Shuffle the cipher text in a manner than the g-men would have to take into account. For instance, encrypt it several times, with different Algos, then remove the GPG header footer from the final cipher (that means they have to account for all the various GPG/PGP headers) ... then have a script that'll omit any line that contains an "=" or is less than x # of characters. Take the remaining lines, you + recipient agree on a daily changing pepper, and shuffle the remaining characters with it. Say today's #s are 3 and 8 .... run the script to swap every 3rd character line with every 8th. Sure, you'll/they'll get a CRC error, but they'd have to solve for all the shuffling 1st....and how long will that take, assuming that they don't have quantum computers cracking it? Then they'll have to solve all the different layers.

    Why do they think that we can't solve for that? Remove a line, post that line, encrypted, elsewhere. There are plenty of ways around compromised crypto, if you're not lazy. Time would not be on their side.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    May's government has killed more vulnerable people than ISIS ever will. If anyone needs monitoring its May and her cronies.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I cannot believe the crass stupidity of both Theresa MAY & Amber RUDD.

    This from a so-called, Prime Minister that calls out Jeremy CORBYN as one who reaches out to the, 'Magic Money Tree' to 'solve' ALL our problems.

    They,MAY-RUDD are too stupid to acknowledge that were companies to code a 'backdoor' into their products for government agencies to exploit, not only is it counter-productive,but government-criminals the world over would access such codes to exploit that same software in government & commercial computer systems.

    Do they honestly think that people are as stupid as they are?

    People will simply NOT use such software that they have no trust in,such companies would be tainted forever at great cost,even Bill GATES can recognise that FACT.

  23. Shane 4


    All politicians should be made to live in glass houses, So they have no privacy at all.

    Hopefully then at least one of them might have a working brain cell to see the problem.

    What next?

    How about a compulsory RFID tag under the skin, We can laugh about it now but just wait.

    It won't be sold as national security of course, It will be some sort of "convenience" for modern day laziness that affects us all from time to time, Just swipe your arm to pay for groceries.

    Sounds good in theory, Until you start getting all those ads in your mail box from places you have just been, Only this time it's not the virtual world but the real one!

    It has got to the point where they think the only way is to track everyone on the planet so they may prevent some sort of bad event, But it won't stop it.

    There will always be a few that just snap for no reason, May have been a model citizen then something random has happened in life that has triggered them to go on some all out rampage. No backdoor in anything is going to help stop it.

    Once again all I see is band aid fixes to bullet wounds, Typical political nonsense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Idiots

      "Hopefully then at least one of them might have a working brain cell to see the problem."

      What if it backfires and they take PRIDE in it instead?

  24. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Brightest and best

    "These companies have some of the best brains in the world. They must focus their brightest and best on meeting these fundamental social responsibilities."

    You know who else employs people who are really good cryptographers? GCHQ. So Mrs May, why don't you get them to knock up a PoC and release it to the general public for testing. I would think such a creation might bemuse hackers for several hours after release.

  25. Chris007

    Here is your answer :)

    Turns it back on the politicians perfectly - Theresa and the rest, please read, digest and get back to the british public with your plans...

  26. onebignerd

    As Ron White said; "You can't fix stupid."

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      It's also very difficult to get sociopathy out of politics; it's basically a requirement, as anyone else decent enough has other, more immediate concerns.


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