Trying to Stop Encryption? It’s Everywhere, Harvard Study Says

Government efforts to put a "backdoor" in encryption products so authorities can access encoded data are a pointless effort, a new Harvard study concludes. Security experts surveyed hundreds of encryption products from around the world, gathering over 800 products from all around the globe. Of those, 546 hailed from countries other than the U.S., and nearly half of them are free.

Chart showing the national origins of the 865 encryption products identified by the study. 304 came from the US. B. Schneier / K. Seidel / S. Vijayakumar

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The researchers — Harvard's Bruce Schneier and Saranya Vijayakumar, along with Kathleen Seidel — concluded was that it would take little effort for anyone, including criminals and terrorists, to simply use software from a country that doesn't mandate back doors.

"Any mandatory backdoor will be ineffective simply because the marketplace is so international," the study states. "Switching is easy. Anyone who wants to evade an encryption backdoor in U.S. or U.K. encryption products has a wide variety of foreign products they can use instead."

Rather than putting terrorists in a corner, in fact, compromising U.S. encryption products — which, while outnumbered, are still more popular worldwide — would likely force them to seek alternatives, while ordinary people would be left behind, still under the eye of the surveillance apparatus.

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"Any national law mandating encryption backdoors will overwhelmingly affect the innocent users of those products," the study stated in its conclusion. "These people will be left vulnerable to abuse of those backdoors by cybercriminals and other governments."

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