Encryption Is Not the Answer to Security Problems
Consider these excerpts:
Back in President Bill Clinton's first term, the "clipper chip" concept was all about improving the security of private communications. Americans were to enjoy the routine ability to send strongly encoded messages to each other that criminals and snoops would not be able to hack, making cyberspace a lot safer.
I see two errors in this section. First, having lived through that time, and having read Steven Levy's excellent book Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government Saving Privacy in the Digital Age, I disagree with Mr Arquilla's statement. The Clipper Chip was the government's last attempt to keep tight control of encryption, not "improve the security of private communications."
Second, Mr Arquilla implies that encryption = "making cyberspace a lot safer." That fallacy appears later in the article.
Sadly, industry leaders have never emphasized the value of strong crypto sufficiently either. There are many reasons for this neglect -- the most likely being that encouraging ubiquitous use of strong crypto could weaken sales of the firewalls and anti-viral products that form so much of the cybersecurity business model.
Here is my key issue with this article. An enterprise could encrypt every single piece of information at rest or in transit, and intruders would still win.
The fundamental reality of cryptography in the enterprise is that users and applications must be able to access data in unencrypted form in order to use it.
In other words, if a user can access data, so can an intruder.
Cryptography certainly frustrates some bad guys, such as amateurs who eavesdrop on encrypted communications, or thieves who swipe mobile devices, or intruders who remove encrypted files without bothering to obtain the material necessary to decrypt it.
However, cryptography will not stop your Web app from suffering SQL injection, nor will it keep Java from being exploited by a client-side attack.
The article concludes in part by saying:
But ways ahead do exist. There is a regulatory role: to mandate better security from the chip-level out -- something that Sen. Joseph Lieberman's Cybersecurity Act would only have made voluntary.
This sounds like an advertisement for a chip maker. I've heard their lobbyists use the same terms on Capitol Hill. "Mandating security" at the "chip level" would be as effective as FISMA -- a waste of time.
Mr Arquilla does make a few points I agree with, such as:
[W]e should treat cybersecurity as a foreign-policy issue, not just a domestic one. For if countries, and even some networks, can find a way to agree to norms that discourage cyberwar-making against civilian infrastructure -- much as the many countries that can make chemical and biological weapons have signed conventions against doing so -- then it is just possible that the brave new virtual world will be a little less conflict prone.
However, do not be fooled into thinking that encryption is the answer to our security problems.