As telecom companies prepare for the day when phone calls are counted in megabytes and not minutes, yet another contentious encryption debate is looming: how to secure subscribers‘ voice conversations, while balancing law enforcement’s need to eavesdrop when needed.
By Matthew Braga|MOTHERBOARD
For Canadian telecom company Rogers and equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent (now Nokia), one option was a so-called backdoor, a secret key of sorts that could decrypt otherwise secure communications, and that theoretically only law enforcement could use.
In 2012, the two companies came up with a lawful interception proposal for a next-generation voice encryption protocol, known as MIKEY-IBAKE. The protocol was designed to protect conversations end-to-end—that is, no one sitting in the middle of a call’s network connection could eavesdrop on what was being said.
Unless you were law enforcement, that is. For them, there was an exception, a backdoor. But there’s a problem with this scenario: a backdoor for law enforcement has the potential to be exploited by others, which is why, amongst security professionals, backdoors are so vehemently opposed.
„In the US, this has been the debate. Are we going to backdoor communications? We simply haven’t had that debate here,“ said Christopher Parsons, a post-doctoral researcher at the Citizen Lab, which belongs to the University of Toronto’s Munk School for Global Affairs. „It seems as though we have carriers and vendors who are looking for ways to subvert that without bothering to deal with the politicians.“