Matthew Kilgore

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Encryption is Critical

Please Note: The following post was originally a “Argumentative Research Paper” for my English course in college. As such it does not follow my conventional formatting.

Encryption is a critical resource for the freedom of speech, protecting individual privacy, preventing censorship, and protecting the confidentiality and integrity of data. The security that encryption provides to its’ end users ensures that people can communicate freely regardless of government rule or oversight. Further, it ensures that citizens can access critical information and obtain knowledge on significant historical events that they might not be able to access via books or other sources due to government censorship. Encryption is also critical in many industries to protect important personal information such as medical records, grades, financial transactions, and more.

            Encryption works by using complicated math that is easy to perform in one direction, but extremely difficult to do in the other direction. There are several kinds of encryption that protect data on a storage device, and other encryption methods protect data in transit as it goes through the internet from one device to another. (What Should I Know About Encryption?, 2019) Because of the way encryption works, it allows anyone to secure data quickly and easily from everyone, including government agencies.

            One of the many uses of encryption is to allow individuals and companies to speak freely and anonymously. During the first crypto wars in the 90s, the U.S. government attempted to stop people from using strong encryption. These attempts to limit the use of encryption were eventually taken to court when a programmer wrote a program that implemented encryption and published that code online. In the end, the U.S. court system determined the code itself was protected free speech because the code was designed to be read by people (Hanson, 2000). This encryption can further be used to protect people speaking out against their government regardless of how harsh the punishments may be (O’Dell, 2011).

            Encryption can also protect the individual information of an individual. This allows the individual or company to speak freely, even when doing so usually might be a risk to their lives (O’Dell, 2011). This protection is offered to everyone via a program called the Tor Web Browser; this browser encrypts the users’ information before it even leaves their machine. It encapsulates the data three times before routing it around the world to a random endpoint (Tor Project: Overview, n.d.). This encapsulation is why the Tor browser is often called the “Onion Router” by both it’s users and the general public. This protection ensures that no matter who might be listening in on a user’s internet traffic that the user can browse and post content in confidence.

            Further, encryption can be used in an industrial setting to protect valuable information. In the united states, medical information is required to be protected via encryption or other methods due to the HIPAA laws that govern those industries (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007). Further, companies dealing with credit card transactions are also required to implement secure encryption to protect not just the customer’s personal information but also financial information. These companies are generally required to follow standards known as PCI Security Standards, which lay out the level of security individual elements of transactions must be placed under. One of the primary methods that the PCI standards layout to protect information is via encryption (PCI Security Standards Council, 2010).

            Encryption also plays an integral role in protecting information and preventing censorship in controlling regimes like Iran, China, UAE, etc. These countries avoid the spread of information they deem “harmful” by writing laws and imprisoning people who attempt to share it. Encryption first helps by allowing everyone to share information freely without fear of prosecution by hiding their true identities in a veil of anonymity. This can allow people to organize significant events such as protest against their governments (O’Dell, 2011) or large gatherings to mourn historical events. Further, encryption can help prevent censorship by protecting the data in transit, making it much harder to edit or modify the contents. An excellent example of this can be found in Wikipedia. Until they forced encryption on all domains, the Chinese government heavily censored information on protest and historical events such as the Tiananmen Square massacre by blocked connections to those pages or modifying the contents. However, once Wikipedia forced encryption on all of their domains, the Chinese government, as well as other oppressive governments around the world, we’re unable to successfully censor those pages without blocking access to all of Wikipedia (Clark, Faris, Jones, & Rebekah, 2017).

            Finally, encryption is integral to protecting the integrity of data. This is because any attackers in the middle would be unable to edit the contents of data during the transition without making it completely unreadable (What Should I Know About Encryption?, 2019). This can be demonstrated in China’s attack on Github, the Greate Firewall of China (which all connections in china go through) was hijacking connections to unencrypted websites and injecting a malicious script into the pages. This allowed them to turn all of their citizens into botnets very effectively without the citizens, even knowing it was happening (Marczak, et al., 2017). In the end, it ended up causing Github to go offline until the Chinese government stopped injecting the malicious script completely. If those websites had been encrypted, the data would never have been injected, and the attack would never have taken place.

            Encryption is a critical resource in today’s modern world. It helps citizens speak freely against their governments without fear of prosecution. It helps protect the confidential private information of billions of people all over the world. Encryption also helps ensure that everyone can access important information regardless of government censorship without feat that the information has been tampered with. Encryption might just be the most important tool that we have available to our generation. Today, we continue to make encryption stronger, use it in new ways to protect more information, and have even used it to create entirely new currencies. Without encryption, the world we live in today could not possibly exist; the need for strong, secure encryption is more critical than ever. We can not allow governments or companies to impede or damage our encryption, or the world as we know it will be irreversibly damaged.

References

Clark, D. J., Faris, M. R., Jones, & Rebekah. (2017, May 17). Analyzing Accessibility of Wikipedia Projects Around the World. Retrieved from https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/32741922

Hanson, S. (2000). Bernstein v. United States Department of Justice: a Cryptic Interpretation of Speech. Brigham Young University Law Review, 2000(2), p. 663. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=3273955&site=eds-live&scope=site

Marczak, B., Weaver, N., Dalek, J., Ensafi, R., Fifield, D., McKune, S., & Paxson, V. (2017, August 22). China’s Great Cannon. Retrieved from https://citizenlab.ca/2015/04/chinas-great-cannon/

O’Dell, J. (2011, April 2). Tor Project Wins Award for Rile in Middle East Revolutions. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/2011/04/01/tor-free-software-award/

PCI Security Standards Council. (2010, August). PCI Data Storage Do’s and Don’ts. Retrieved from https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/pdfs/pci_fs_data_storage.pdf

Tor Project: Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from Tor Project: https://2019.www.torproject.org/about/overview.html.en

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007, March). HIPPA Security Standards: Technical Safeguards. Retrieved from HHS.org: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/securityrule/techsafeguards.pdf?language=es

What Should I Know About Encryption? (2019, March 7). Retrieved from https://ssd.eff.org/en/module/what-should-i-know-about-encryption

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