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High-Quality Cryptography

by John Young

As you know if you’ve read much on this website, our power-hungry federal government likes to unaccountably http://wvwnews.net/story.php?id=3371 by intercepting citizens’ and non-citizens’ electronic communications.

This election doesn’t bode well for reforming that attitude. But as free citizens who take initiative, we can empower ourselves.

The solution is wide deployment of high-quality encryption that is sufficiently difficult to crack that, with a limited budget, “our” government has to make practical choices regarding whose communications really merit the effort. After all, it would be extremely embarrassing if a successful terrorist attack took out a vital national asset because the Department of Homeland Security was too busy decrypting my grocery list.

To be effective at protecting our privacy, then, the encryption must both be high-quality and widely used, even for matters that aren’t especially important.Cryptography is, by its very nature, the sort of technology that is difficult to conceptualize. Even so, we use it every day with ATM cards and Internet-based purchases. It is built-in to Windows updates and other applications to verify their authenticity, and so forth.

This sort of cryptography is generally transparent to the user. Unfortunately, according to an expert at a Trusted Third Party surveillance provider that I interviewed regarding CALEA compliance, most commonplace cryptography of that sort is so easily cracked that it is broken in real-time with zero or near-zero effort and doesn’t even require human intervention.

Thankfully, better alternatives have been widely available for at least a decade, most recently in the form of http://gnupg.org. Originally developed for Unix and Linux, GnuPG was ported to Windows* in 2000. The down side is that, in its raw form, GnuPG is a user-unfriendly command-line program that will give even experienced computer experts difficulty.

This sort of difficulty inherently works against the sort of wide-deployment needed for encryption to stymie widespread surveillance-state technology. Luckily, a number of computer programmers in the Open Source community have developed user-friendly gui-based software that hides the underlying complexities from end-users and integrates the technology with popular email software seamlessly.

http://www.gpg4win.org/ has put all of these essential tools together in a convenient package for Windows users. Best of all, there’s no excuse for avoiding this, because it is free.

High-quality encryption has some conceptual complexity to it, but it’s well within the abilities of our readership. Even so, anyone unfamiliar with the technology should read http://www.gpg4win.org/handbuecher/novices.html.

An area has been established on the members-only website for EAU members to upload their public keys for purposes of internal communication. Use encryption early, use it often, and use it even for the most innocuous discussions of gardening and fishing when you can.

Can you imagine the folks over at “No Such Agency” investing gobs of computer time and untold money — only to discover a missive on how to grow carrots?

Gnu Privacy Guard: Free
Computer: You already have it
The look on a totalitarian bureaucrat’s face? Priceless.

It won’t take long for the forces of resource-scarcity to direct their attention to the most important purposes, like chasing terrorists, so they can leave the honest citizens who pay their salaries alone.

*Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation. Our mentioning of a Microsoft product doesn’t imply endorsement.

2008-02-20

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