Don’t tell me you’ve never played the arcade game Whack-a-Mole. Please. I asked you not to tell me that. But if you think about it, much of life is like Whack-a-Mole.
Here’s how it works. A problem pops up and you whack it with a solution. But as soon as that solution is implemented, another related problem pops up. Software seems to work that way which explains the endless loop of software updates. What else? Security, which is software-based, of course, works the same way. Unfortunately, so do politicians and government officials.
Nothing Is Secure
My nearly 20 years of information technology has taught me that Whack-a-Mole is game everyone plays and almost all the time. We’re constantly tracking down bugs, problems, configuration issues, hardware on the blink, software that isn’t working properly.
Encryption has been in the news the past few years, more so since Apple and Google decided end-to-end encryption is good for customer privacy and helps to secure communications and data from others. Unfortunately, encryption is also good for criminals, hackers, and terrorists who use it to plan their dastardly deeds behind the scenes, away from public and private scrutiny in the secure enclaves that software can provide.
Enter Whack-a-Mole. If only politicians and government officials would refer back to their childhood, back to the game of physical exasperation, back to when a hefty and quick thump on the mole’s head made it disappear, only to reappear nearby. Remembering the good old days of Whack-a-Mole will explain the current problem with encryption.
Governments can either ban all encryption everywhere, and that’s just not plausible with online commerce these days, or leave it alone. Playing Whack-a-Mole with encryption will only frustrate the players, and the moles will never go away.
Both New York and California are considering laws which will require cell phone makers– Apple and others– to provide back door access to encrypted data on customer phones. Ostensibly, that backdoor is to allow authorities to track down and prevent terrorist and criminal activities. Such a ban on encryption or back door access to encrypted devices will not prevent anything except the security a customers wants for private data and communications.
Whack-a-Mole. Assume for a moment that laws are passed which require backdoor access to encrypted devices so the government can save us from ourselves, and Apple and other cell phone manufacturers alter their software so devices can be unlocked and encrypted information accessed.
What will the criminals and terrorists do?
Many already use encrypted applications which are installed onto cell phones and computers, apps for which the government does not have access. Criminals and terrorists will still do exactly as they do now and the government cannot stop their activities. But governments and manufacturers will have access to our private data and communications through the backdoor laws. We become less safe while criminals and terrorists remain protected by different versions of the very technology that once protected us.
Whack-a-Mole. The government is good at Whack-a-Mole. Whenever they desire to fix one problem, the fix is almost guaranteed to cause another problem nearby that nobody thought about. Whack-a-Mole in this sense and in the context of security is a game that cannot be won. Unless you’re a criminal or terrorist.