Cell Phone Encryption – The Latest Battle for Your Data.

Christopher Sewerd From our Perspective

In recent years privacy and encryption have become hot topics and more recently cell phone encryption has been thrown into the fray. As discussed in length in previous articles, the general public have finally woken up to encryption. While many may not initially know the benefits of encryption, it is certainly a buzzword that is starting to gain momentum and you’ll be hearing much more of cell phone encryption leading in to the future.

Encryption explosion

At the start of 2014 it was reported that 28% of the online world are now using privacy tools. Over half of those surveyed for the findings report that they feel that the internet is eroding their personal privacy. While it is true that personal privacy is indeed being harmed, it is not necessarily by the internet itself, but by those who have the power and ultimately control the networks.

While internet uptake has continued to grow on desktop systems, a new breed of internet use has come to fruition within the past few years with a surge in mobile internet access. As of 2014 it is reported that internet access via mobile has exceeded that of desktop use and for the first time in history. With this trend and the changes in the way we consume data it looks as if mobile internet use will continue to grow and at a pace that far outweighs the usual desktop type system we have been so accustomed to for the past decade.

With mobile internet access on the increase the very real concern around cell phone encryption is likely to rear its head. This is going to be of great concern moving forward in the next few years as our usage becomes ever more wire free.

Cell phone and tablet use centres mainly around app usage and a shift towards developing cell phone apps in the encryption field has been evident in recent years. With OpenVPN being available for mobile devices and recent developments such as the encrypted Tox messaging system having an Android app under development, it makes for interesting times where mobile privacy applications are concerned.

Cell phone encryption

Android phone encryptionWhile apps themselves are aiding our personal privacy it has become clear that larger corporations wanting to distance themselves from the NSA scandals of recent years are also making a push in to the realm of user privacy.

Apple have recently launched iOS 8 which encrypts user data by default and without the user pass code it is now impossible even for Apple themselves to decrypt the data. With no master key this introduces a situation where if law enforcement request to decrypt a phone’s data, it would be impossible for Apple to comply and as such puts the power of privacy back in the hands of the user.

Current Android systems are also able to encrypt data with manual user set up, although Google have confirmed that with the release of their next edition of Android, encryption will be enabled by default. This enables a situation where the end user does not even need to have an interest in such matters to be automatically covered by cell phone encryption.

Law Enforcement concern

Although the race for encryption is currently being battled out between Apple and Google, the increase in automatic encryption has begun to catch the attention of law enforcement agencies. In recent weeks FBI Director James Comey has stated that they are “Very Concerned” about the new privacy features which are appearing from the likes of Apple and Google.

While no one can deny that we all wish to be kept safe from criminals and terrorists, recent revelations from Edward Snowden have prompted many to take extra precautions from unwarranted snooping be it by Government agencies or other nefarious types. The fall out of those revelations is that the three letter agencies have now been left back peddling and in essence, shot themselves in the foot.

Comey told reporters, “I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law, what concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

Like all encryption, cell phone encryption has now been placed in a catch 22 situation. On one hand the public are enabling encryption because they are concerned about their privacy and unwarranted snooping, while on the other hand we expect to be kept safe by those we entrust to do such a task. If both situations can coexist harmoniously will be left to be seen.

It would appear that the NSA, GCHQ, FBI and others have opened a can of worms that now out, are difficult to put back in.

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