Cryptography has always been about outdoing and outperforming the cryptanalytic efforts of others, trying to create an unbreakable, perfectly secure code. Today with the help of computers we have been able to get closer than ever before, creating encryptions that cannot be broken by any normal means. However, now is also the first time that the efforts to create such an unbreakable cipher are being held back. The National Security Agency, in order to stay on top cryptographically, limited the Data Encryption Standard to something they could crack if necessary. According to Singh, one of the first examples of this was back in the 1970s, when Horst Feistel created Lucifer, the strongest encrypting machine of its day. However, before it was adopted, the NSA argued to limit the number of keys such that no personal computer could break it, but the NSA could if it needed to.

Spying

This seems relatively reasonable. When necessary, the government can intervene and get the information they need, but it would be sufficiently hard that they would not be taking information all of the time. But wait, what about the right to privacy? Shouldn’t we have a right to an unbreakable encryption, if we so choose? This comes down to the increasingly important argument of privacy over security. Are you willing to sacrifice some of your privacy (the NSA can see everything you do if it wants) in order to grant a little bit of security?

I think not. If the NSA can crack the encryption, I would bet that there are others who can as well, be it other governments or something more sinister. Obviously the vast majority of the population has nothing even vaguely interesting to hide in the eyes of the NSA, but the fact that they can look into the personal life of any person they choose is frightening.

Photo Credit: BramstonePhotography