Blog/Expert Analysis/

What is an encryption backdoor?

Dec 28, 2020

An encryption backdoor is a method of bypassing authentication and accessing encrypted data in certain services. While governments and law enforcement agencies claim they need a backdoor for investigating crimes, users and service providers think this might jeopardize your privacy. Imagine somebody sneaking around your house and looking at what you’re doing inside. Sounds terrible, but this is what the encryption backdoor debate is all about.

The encryption backdoor debate

Encryption protects our data from wrongdoers, yet a handful of governments around the world are trying to tighten encryption laws and install a backdoor. This means they want to have access to the decryption key of any online service and extract information that might help to prevent crimes or facilitate investigations.

In 2018, Australia became the first Western country to pass an encryption bill obligating tech companies to hand over users’ data to authorities upon request. This applies to WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, and other companies using any type of encryption.

In recent years, encryption laws have been the center of debates in the EU, US, and Canada, yet they haven’t gone as far as they did in Australia. Tech companies and the general public oppose the backdoor idea, arguing that it would undermine security for the rest of the users.

In 2015, after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, CA, the FBI asked Apple to unlock a phone recovered from one of the shooters. This would have created a precedent in the encryption debate, but Apple refused to collaborate.

Encryption backdoor pros

  1. An encryption backdoor would help law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fight and prevent crimes. This would also speed up investigations, as agencies could intercept communications and collect data about suspects. Since a lot of criminals use end-to-end encryption services, making it impossible to read the contents of their messages, officials claim that a backdoor would highly benefit investigations of terrorism, child pornography, and hate crime.
  2. As most tech companies operate internationally, it takes time for national security agencies to conduct investigations and receive information. Experts say that Australia’s bill won’t work, as companies will move their data storage to other countries. If governments agreed on international encryption laws, this would benefit local intelligence agencies. The Five Eyes and other alliances attempt to implement this idea.

Encryption backdoor cons

  1. While an encryption backdoor might help to solve crimes, it could also leave many services vulnerable. The same backdoor that law enforcement agencies use could be exploited by hackers, which would eventually cause a rise in cybercrimes.
  2. Government surveillance has been going on for a while, and the story of Edward Snowden proves how extensive it is. Intelligence agencies could use a backdoor to spy on people and collect as much data as they can. This would create a reality of the Orwellian “Big Brother”, where every step you take is closely monitored.
  3. Tech companies would be forced to store decryption keys in their databases, leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks. Hackers could steal the decryption keys of billions of people and extract their personal information.
  4. A backdoor to one IoT device could expose the whole bunch of other devices connected to the same network. IoT security is questionable as it is, and a backdoor would make things even worse.
  5. Cybersecurity experts say there’s no safe way to create a backdoor without putting everyone’s data in danger.
  6. An encryption backdoor could leave human rights activists in oppressive regimes without safe communication channels. They would be under constant government surveillance, sometimes even risking their lives.

Should encryption have a backdoor?

Encryption should have no backdoor. With cybercrimes on the rise and governments constantly spying on citizens, it provides us with protection and invisibility. If we leave a backdoor (even for noble causes), we’re giving up our privacy and security.

With an encryption backdoor, the internet would become less private. While intelligence agencies claim they would use the backdoor to encrypted services only when necessary, we can’t be sure they won’t misuse their power.

Encrypt your data with NordLocker

If you’re looking for top-notch data encryption, look no further than NordLocker. It’s an easy-to-use app that allows you to encrypt all types of data and store it on your computer or in the NordLocker cloud. All you need to do is drag your files to a so-called locker, and the app will encrypt them in a snap.

NordLocker has a strict zero-knowledge policy, meaning it doesn’t care what kind of information you keep in your locker. Even if intelligence agencies were to ask for a backdoor and a decryption key, we could give them nothing, because we keep nothing.

Elisa Armstrong

Elisa Armstrong

Verified author

Elisa’s all about languages. She speaks five, loves stand-up comedy, and is writing her first novel. Besides her extensive knowledge of cybersecurity, she’s an expert in persuasion techniques hackers use and strives to teach people how to avoid online scams.