Encryption may make terrorist activity more difficult to track, but the trade-offs in improved cybersecurity protection are worth it, according to the former head of Britain’s MI5 service.
In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, Jonathan Evans said that recent attacks by militants in the U.K. are not a reason to increase risks by weakening encryption systems. As cybercriminals use more sophisticated techniques to penetrate government and private sector organizations, he argued, it’s important to remember the variety of threats facing the public and use whatever measures necessary to ward them off. Evans was chief of the British spy operations for six years and spent 33 years with the organization before he left in 2013.
As Business Insider reported, Evans has no illusions about the dangers technology can introduce. He said that the Dark Web, where online activity is more private, has allowed child abuse, leaks of sensitive government information and other criminal activity to take place more easily. Evans also predicted that cybersecurity attacks will continue to come from a variety of places — including the Internet of Things (IoT), which he suggested needs greater protection.
To some extent, The Guardian suggested, Evans’ comments may be in reaction to British Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She has been criticizing encryption in messaging apps as a tool to hide militant activity.
But as Reuters pointed out, Evans is not the only one who is concerned about the impact of weakened encryption on cybersecurity threats. A senior official with the U.K.’s intelligence agency GCHQ, for example, suggested that law enforcement officials could work more collaboratively with technology firms who maintain communication systems. That way, officials would be able to intercept communications by malicious actors, rather than reduce the strength of the underlying systems.
In any case, Evans believes that foiling militants will take at least 30 years — which means that weakening encryption could be a short-term and premature move.