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Schneier and Kerr on Encryption Workarounds

John Levine

Bruce Schneier is a famous cryptography expert and Orin Kerr a famous cyberlaw professor. Together they've published a law journal article on Encryption Workarounds. It's intended for lawyers so it's quite accessible to non-technical readers.

The article starts with a summary of how encryption works, and then goes through six workarounds to get the text of an encrypted message:

  • Find the key: for example, you might find a piece of paper on which the user has written the key.
  • Guess the key: for example, the user's birth date or "password."
  • Compel the key: make the user reveal the key, or force the user to use a biometric like a thumbprint.
  • Exploit a flaw: crypto software has bugs, and some have deliberate back doors.
  • Access the plaintext when the device in use: Silk Road drug market operator Ross Ulbricht used full disk encryption, so agents at a café staged a distraction, grabbed his open laptop, and searched it on the spot while arresting him.
  • Locate a plaintext copy: cloud backups are a good place to start.

It then draws some lessons, starting with the obvious one that no workaround works all the time but they all work some of the time, and then considers the often ambiguous legal status of workarounds.

It's well worth reading for anyone interested in the contentious intersection of law and cryptography.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker
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Share your comments

correctd URL ruddyconsult  –  May 22, 2018 11:50 PM PDT

The posted link did not work for me, so I found this better
link

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2938033

looks like a copy and paste error Phil Howard  –  May 23, 2018 12:12 AM PDT

looks like a copy and paste error ... the last digit was cut off.  it's always good to check your links at edit time.

Correction made Ali Farshchian  –  May 23, 2018 7:32 AM PDT

Thank you for your feedback on the incorrect link.

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