UK’s cybersecurity agency asks Apple and other technology companies to reveal encrypted messages exchanged among users.
Officials at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) proposed a plan to sneak the coded conversations of users without threatening their privacy and security.
GCHQ’s Plan to Eavesdrop On Encrypted Messages Falls Flat
Apple, along with other 46 companies, signed a letter and sent it to GCHQ, urging the security agency to abandon this plan.
The entire plan to get hold of encrypted communication was initiated by two cybersecurity officials of high rank in November 2018 (Ian Levy, the technical director of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, and Crispin Robinson, GCHQ’s head of cryptanalysis).
If tech companies implement this plan, it would mean users’ communication on messaging services like WhatsApp going to a third-recipient (security agencies), apart from the intended user.
To register their protest, tech firms, civil society groups and Ivy League security experts disapproved this proposal from Britain’s secret services. Such practice is a ‘serious threat’ to digital security and fundamental human rights.
Ian Levy and Crispin Robinson said it would be “relatively easy for a service provider to silently add a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call.”
Levy and Robinson attempted to convince tech companies to accept the proposal as this would be “no more intrusive than the virtual crocodile clips”. Notably, such clips are used in wiretaps of non-encrypted communications.
Tech giants, in their open letter, replied that “to achieve this result, their proposal requires two change to systems that would seriously undermine user security and trust.”
Government As a Participant to Existing Group Chat
This is the first threat, as per the signatories, who said, “First, it would require service providers to surreptitiously inject a new public key into a conversation in response to a government demand. This would turn a two-way conversation into a group chat where the government is the additional participant, or add a secret government participant to an existing group chat.”
Change in Software
Second threat is, “In order to ensure the government is added to the conversation in secret, GCHQ’s proposal would require messaging apps, service providers, and operating systems to change their software so that it would 1) change the encryption schemes used, and/or 2) mislead users by suppressing the notifications that routinely appear when a new communicant joins a chat.”
A company like Apple would never comply with such intrusive terms and conditions set by the UK security agencies. Apple has always given prime importance to user privacy, and to protect this, the company had rejected FBI’s request to unlock an iPhone of a terrorist.
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