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Bruce Schneier wants to make surveillance costly again

Joab Jackson | Nov. 8, 2013
At the USENIX conference, security expert Bruce Schneier urged the technical audience to make government eavesdropping more difficult.

It is now become more expensive, in terms of public relations, for technology companies to cooperate too readily with the NSA. "It used to be there was no cost to cooperating with the NSA. Now there is," he said.

Better use of encryption is another way to keep surveillance in check, Schneier noted. "The more we enable encryption, the safer everyone is," he said. The heavily encrypted Tor network, for instance, has been immune to eavesdropping, to much to the NSA's annoyance.

Schneier did speculate as to what, if any, methods that the NSA might have to break today's encryption algorithms. The vast number of mathematicians the NSA has hired suggests that the agency could be a few years ahead of academic researchers in terms of finding flaws in these algorithms. He also noted that, despite the use of encryption, the communication endpoints of most communication systems are not very secure, giving the NSA easier access to data. Still, these advantages help more in personal targeting, rather than in information collection across an entire population.

Getting people interested in issues of privacy can be a challenge, even after the NSA revelations, Schneier admitted. At the end of the presentation, one attendee asked how Schneier would respond to someone claiming not to be bothered by government snooping because he or she did not have anything to hide.

Schneier suggested asking that person what his or her salary is. Or to ask about details of sexual fantasies.

"You could remind them that Google knows the sexual fantasies of everyone in the room. That is quite creepy," he said.

 

 

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