inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #0 of 86: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 7 Feb 01 12:47
Steven Levy is a senior editor at Newsweek, anchoring its technology
coverage.  He is author of five books, most recently CRYPTO: HOW THE CODE
SECRET. He lives in New York City.  He has, incidentally, been a WELL user
since its inception.

Crypto is about privacy in the information age and about the nerds and
visionaries who, nearly twenty years ago, predicted that the Internet's
greatest virtue-free access to information-was also its most perilous
drawback: a possible end to privacy.  To provide tools that would use the
ancient practice of cryptography to provide that protection to
communications they had to do two things:  create the biggest breakthrough
in the field ever envisioned, and then fight the government to get the right
to distribute the tools.  Crypto tells the story of how they did it, a tale
that winds from MIT's AI lab to the White House.

Steven will be interviewed by Mike Godwin, who has had extensive
involvement with the legal and social issues affecting cyberspace, serving
as the first Staff Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where
he informed users of electronic networks about their legal rights and
responsibilities, instructed criminal lawyers and law-enforcement
personnel about computer civil-liberties issues, and conducted seminars
about civil liberties in electronic communication for a wide range of
groups. In addition to contributing to the Center for Democracy and
Technology's work as Policy Fellow, Mike also currently serves as Chief
Correspondent at IP Worldwide, a publication of American Lawyer Media, and
as a columnist for American Lawyer magazine. Godwin's articles for print
and electronic publications on topics such as electronic searches and
seizures, the First Amendment & electronic publications, and the
application of international law to computer communications have appeared
in the Whole Earth Review, The Quill, Index on Censorship, Internet World,
WIRED, HotWired, Time, Reason, and Playboy. Godwin served as co-counsel to
the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case Reno v. ACLU. EFF was also a
plaintiff in that case. Godwin's first book, CYBER RIGHTS: DEFENDING FREE
SPEECH IN THE DIGITAL AGE, was published by Random House/Times Books in
the summer of 1998. --

Please join me in welcoming Steven and Mike to inkwell.vue!
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #1 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Wed 7 Feb 01 15:09


It's great to have you here. Folks here may be interested to know at the
outset that we've known each other for about ten years (I think we met at
Computers, Freedom, and Privacy) and been friends for about that long, and
that we have in common both a) that we each persuaded the Freedom Forum to
subsidize books for us, and b) that we're serious fans of the Macintosh.
(For years before we met, I'd been a devotee of your Mac journalism, by the
way -- you were always a Mac booster, but your articles were invariably
fairminded, substantive, and fun to read.)

We're here to talk about the book that you wrote with Freedom Forum support,
CRYPTO, which has just come out. But I also hope we can talk more generally
about tech journalism and your career as a journalist.

I mention what we have in common in the hope that maybe your career arc will
rub off on me a little -- in the 1980s you wrote the seminal book about
microcomputer culture, HACKERS, which is still in print, and in the 1990s
you've established yourself as one of the top tech journalists in the U.S.,
covering everything from the Internet porn panic to the Microsoft antitrust
case, usually for NEWSWEEK but sometimes for WIRED and other publications.
In fact, it was your article on public-key cryptography and crypto-activists
in the very second issue of WIRED that persuaded me to subscribe to that
magazine -- it struck me as the very best explanation of public-key crypto
that I'd seen, and I immediately started photocopying the article and
sending it around to people I thought needed a quick briefing on the issue.

That article, in the May/June 1993 issue of WIRED, can be found online
(minus its helpful illustrations) at

But despite the crypto story's being on the cover of WIRED, and despites its
occasional surfacing in the newsmagazines or in the major newspapers, it
seems to me that the crypto story has never been given the kind of newsplay
it deserves. The mainstream media seem for the most part of have missed both
the social implications of the availability of cheap, powerful encryption
and the heated, ongoing public-policy debate as to whether our government
should discourage, encourage, ignore, or outright ban this tool. (A recent
exception: NEWSWEEK's featuring of a long excerpt from CRYPTO last month.)
So, the first question I want to ask you upfront is whether you think the
press has given this story adequate play so far, and, if not, why not?

A second question: Could you say something to explain the federal
government's panic over the fact that crypto theory suddenly became the
subject of public academic inquiry in the 1970s? Or about their even more
acute panic in the 1990s when it became clear anyone's home computer is
potentially capable of scrambling a message so effectively that even snoops
equipped with supercomputers may find it difficult or impossible to
unscramble it (unless the snoop is the intended recipient)?

A third question: Am I right in guessing that you're trying to steer us all
(journalists and readers alike) to use the standard term "crypto" for all
this stuff, in place of "encryption," "cryptography," "cryptology,"
"cryptanalysis," etc. -- related terms that nevertheless have different and
distinct meanings? Has the NEWSWEEK style manual been appropriately updated
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #2 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Wed 7 Feb 01 16:51
Wow, that's a lot.  First, thanks Mike, for the nice words and also thanks
to the Well for hosting this discussion.  Mike is right, we've walked down
some roads together, and it will be fun taking this hike.

OK, question one.  In a way, I think that it's surprising that such a
potentially frightening subject has gotten significant attention at all.
There are all sorts of major stories that don't get, for instance, front
page stories in the NY Times (and an NY Times mag cover that I wrote in
1994), zillions of stories in the trade press, congressional attention, and
space in just about every major media (with TV somewhat lagging). That said,
considering its importance, I think there still should be more.  I've very
happy to have come out with Crypto, which I think tells this vital story
with the depth it deserves.  But there are some aspects of it that can't be
dispatched in a couple of pithy statements, and that holds us back.   Can I
argue that this subject is as important as another I've covered, the
Microsoft trial, and thus deserves as much attention?  Yeah, I can, but I
know how the media works, and considering all that, Crypto is far from a
candidate for the "most censored story" list.

Question two is fairly easy.  The government went ballistic at the advent of
an independent community studying crypto -- and coming up with
groundbreaking innovations in the field -- because it rocked their cold-war
world.  Among the unquestioned assumptions at the NSA was the belief that
the nation would be best served if ANY sophisticated knowledge of crypto
were kept away from public channels, where foes might see it and make use of
it.   By th 1990s, at the NSA at least, they figured out that it was
impossible to totally snuff the stuff, and that there was a need for some
form of crypto for citizens.  So the idea was the keep the strong stuff out
of general useage, by banning its export.  The law enforcement folks werfe
stuck longer in the hard-core phase, and still are, even now using Bin Laden
to suggest that crypto has GONE TOO FAR, damn it.  (Imagine, a terrorist
using stuff sold by dozens of software companies!)

As for whether I'm on a campaign to make the word "crypto" the default
identifier for all that stuff, well, I haven't thought of it that way.
After seeing what happened to the word Hacker after my book came out
(watching the meaning change from the way I used it -- as a term of honor
more or less, as the actual hackers consider it -- to something quite
different), I have no illusions that I can control language. I used "crypto:
as I did because it made sense and if people pick it up, great. Again, this
is the way people on the ground refer to it.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #3 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Wed 7 Feb 01 20:14

One of the great aspects of the recent Bin Laden/crypto stories, I've
been thinking, is how they manage to combine crypto, terrorism, porn,
and the Internet. Take stories like these, for example:


I get the impression from these stories that some U.S. officials aren't
taking the recent liberalization of American crypto policy lying down --
they're still sounding the alarm about the threat of powerful crypto
in terrorist hands.

Could you say something, Steven, about the government's past strategies
for suppressing and controlling powerful crypto (through the export laws
or other means), and whether you have any signs that the new
administration will revisit this issue?

Also, could you talk a little bit about what some readers are likely to
find a surprising aspect of the crypto-policy story -- that the Clinton
Administration (and Al Gore in particular) were much bigger supporters of
schemes to limit or control the spread of crypto than the preceding
administrations had been?

(My own impression, prior to reading CRYPTO, was that there was a large
degree of continuity between the Bush I and Clinton administrations on
this issue -- especially in light of Bush advisor Brent Scowcroft's memo
linking crypto control to the DOJ's "Digital Telephony" wiretap
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #4 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Thu 8 Feb 01 20:19
The government used to actually be able to control powerful crypto, because
none of it existed outside its control (except maybe in foreign intelligence
services that weren't eager to see it spread, either).  When the cow is in
the barn, it's simple to keep it in the barn.  But when an independent
community started making breakthroughs and publishing papers, the task
became more difficult.  The first initiative was to try to intimadate the
academics who were publishing.  When the profs showed backbone (and a
decision in the justice dept, not made public, indicated that such efforts
and maybe even the export laws themselves were unconstitutional), the NSA
backed off.  From there, the export laws were the firewall.

The bin Laden thing is interesting.  I've been predicting that the next big
test of whether the government has really changed will come when it's clear
that truly bad guys are using crypto.  True to form, that day is here,
though an actual massacre that could have been prevented if only the perps
didn't use crypto, would have been more dramatic.

As for the Clinton administration, I write in the book that actually the
Clintonistas took a step that the Bushies had been avoiding -- signing off
on the key escrow policy.  The Bush people were certainly sympathetic with
the spooks and G-men, but were wary of untried initiatives that might, one
government source told me, "wind up on their suits."  The Clinton people
were ripe for plucking.  They didn't want to alienate the hard-liners.  They
were intimidated by sudden responsibility.  And they were manipulated by the
NSA and FBI, who gave them three choices:  let crypto run free (and suffer
the consequences of people dead in the streets), ban crypto totally (risking
riots in Silicon Valley), or take the alleged middle-road, a supposedly plug
ready key escrow path that had, well, something for everybody.  Cool.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #5 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Fri 9 Feb 01 10:23

It was interesting to read in CRYPTO that the public knowledge of cypher
stuff in the academic world wasn't too much deeper than what I had learned
as a kid when reading about "secret writing." Everybody interested in the
subject knew the basics -- substitution schemes, frequency analysis, and
so forth. I think what your book captures is the extent to which some
really smart math and computer guys took the whole field out of its,
I dunno, moribundity and actually sort of created the public study
of crypto from nearly nothing. Your book focuses on some of these key
personalities -- notably Whit Diffie -- and the sequence of their progress
gives your book a great narrative structure.

Was it hard to get smart-but-difficult personalities like Diffie, and Jim
Bidzos, and Bobby Ray Inman and Stew Baker to cooperate with you on this
book, and even to let their hair down about these issues? I ask because
I know a bunch of these people too, and while they're very different in
most respects, there's a certain edginess they have in common.

More generally, what difficulties did you run into in researching and
writing the book? Some of the stuff you talk about, like the notorious
"secret briefing" the NSA/DOJ cryptopponents used to give congressmen and
senators and the White House staff, are still secret, so far as I know --
did you ever get hold of the contents of that briefing?

And on a more general note:

Could you say something about how you got into tech journalism in general,
and into writing about computers and computer people in particular? One of
the remarkable things about HACKERS, it seems to me, is that relatively
few journalists realized before you produced that stuff that there are
real and compelling stories in the computer field. Even Tracy Kidder, who
did realize that there was a lot to write about when it came to computer
geeks, ended up focusing on, of all things, Data General and its product
developers. (HACKERS shows, among other things, that computer geekery
extends far beyond the electrical-engineering crowd.)
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #6 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Fri 9 Feb 01 12:43

By the way, "cryptopponents" is a deliberate neologism and not a typo.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #7 of 86: Declined To State (jrc) Fri 9 Feb 01 12:50

Hi Steven. Long-time fan, first time typist -- in this topic.

I have a bunch of questions; I'll space them out. i was interested that one
of the books I loved the most when i woas younger, the wonderful Code
breakers by David Kahn, was considered subversive by the government. It also
got a lot of the crypto people involved in the first place; I'm trying to
think of an equivalent piece of popular writing that had that much effect on
national policy.

I'm wondering what you think about Carnivore, the new FBI eavesdropping
program that is, in soem ways, an acknowledgment that cryto has won at least
for the moment and that it's gonna try to get its info by people stoopid
enough to plan their terrorist attacks in plaintext. Of course,l maybe some
of their targets -- child pornographers and such -- are the clueless.

So I supposed the follow-up question would be: To what extent do you think
an awareness of the possibilities of crypto has entered the public
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #8 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Fri 9 Feb 01 13:04

That's a great question, Jon -- the story of Kahn and his book THE
CODEBREAKERS is a fascinating one, although it's dealt with only 
in passing in CRYPTO.

In a fit of paranoia in 1993, I bought the pricey hardbound edition of
THE CODEBREAKERS because I thought it was just barely possible that the 
government might, in its anti-crypto panic, outlaw it somehow.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #9 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Fri 9 Feb 01 14:18
I'm writing a column at the minute, so it will be a little while before I
get to all these.  I can correct you Mike is saying that CODEBREAKERS is
actually dealt with in some detail insofar as I tell Kahn's experience while
writing it and the NSA's attempts to kill it.   The then director of the NSA
went to Little Brown with a manuscript they'd obtained.  I thought of the
contrast with my own experience.  When we were planning the excerpt for
Newsweek, we asked if we could shoot Clint Brooks,the NSA guy who thought up
the key escrow scheme.  They called me back and asked if we could send them
an advance copy of the book (which was just about to be published). All
along I'd thought they'd probably have a copy before I wrote it!
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #10 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Fri 9 Feb 01 14:31

Didn't mean to seem to dis your account of Kahn's experience with the NSA,
Steven -- I was just trying to say that the David Kahn story is a pretty
big and cool story all by itself, IMHO.

It's kind of amazing how much the NSA has come out from behind the veil
of secrecy since the 1970s. Back then you couldn't get anyone official
to acknowledge its existence -- now they actually give the public
tours of Fort Meade (or so I understand).
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #11 of 86: Joe Flower (bbear) Fri 9 Feb 01 15:03
Joe Flower here, Steven - a fellow writer for Wired back in the days (I
think I had an article in that same second issue). Just finished the
book. Very well done. A great explanation - and you took the time and
skill to tell the human stories of people on all sides of the question,
which made the battles not only more interesting but much more
understandable. I had never before understood the government's weird
intransigence on crypto.

One comment: The Bin Laden situation reminds me of the concerns about
human rights in China. People say, "Omigod omigod they're doing this
horrible thing!" To which the proper answer is: "And what effective
counter-measure are you proposing?" How precisely would the hard-liners
propose to keep strong crypto out of the hands of the Bin Ladens of the
world, now that it it already in their hands?
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #12 of 86: Farooq Khan (farooq) Fri 9 Feb 01 15:19
Dear Steven,

I would be extremely grateful if you could answer these questions for

How big do you think the gulf is in terms of cyptography between the
public and private sector, is there a big technological difference and
if so isn't privacy an impossible thing to achieve?

Is quantum cryptography a reality yet, or is it still a matter of
research and development?

Do you think cryptography alone is the key to making ecommerce a
success, in preventing crime and the like?
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #13 of 86: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 9 Feb 01 15:23

  Hi Steven, I was invited to help in the interview process here but
Mike is doing such a great job that I have little to add.  I do want
to ask one thing, though.  It's kinda vague.....

  Your book HACKERS really changed a lot in my life, and in others.
One could argue that the WELL itself might not have begun with such
a technologically savvy membership (if it began at all) if the folks
at Whole Earth had not been inspired by your book to create the conference
of the same name.  And obviously the bunch of us who got together on the
WELL in 1986 to create the annual version of that conference would not have
done so.  On a more personal note, I probably would never have heard of, let
alone met, my girlfriend in 1986 or my [later] wife in 1987 if not for the
WELL's existence.  And, as I've remarked to you, I wouldn't have been trying
for the next ten years to preserve the meaning of 'hacker'.   ;-)

  Out in the real world, I think that book brought a lot of people
together in various ways who simply would never have made any connection
without some similar kind of history and manifesto.  Would things like the
EFF and CFP have happened if you hadn't written up the defining history of
the techno-culture?  I suspect something like them was going to be
necessary, but.....

  So I wonder if you have any speculation or vision about how _CRYPTO_
might contribute to some developments like _HACKERS_ did before it?  Do
you have any specific hopes for connection-making here?  Probably you'll
say that you just wrote it because it needed to be written, but now that
it is I wonder about any visions you might have for it?

  Oh, I was shocked to recognize aspects of my own life an interests in
some of the people descriptions in CRYPTO.  I was very interested in
cryptography in the 1970s and very disappointed that there didn't seem to
be anywhere to go with it.  Little did I know, advanced math was the path
to take....
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #14 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Fri 9 Feb 01 16:07

By the way, people who want to know more general stuff about Steven can
and his work can find plenty at
<>, his website. This includes
the fact that Steven was the journalist who uncovered the secret of who
was keeping Einstein's brain, which had been removed for study after
the scientist's death. (The rest of Einstein's body was cremated.)

Strangely, some other guy got a book contract out of the Einstein's-brain
story more than 20 years after Steven did the spadework. Go figure.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #15 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Fri 9 Feb 01 18:24
Waiting for my column to get edited...

Wow. plenty of questions here. Let me go back to Mike's question about
getting people to talk to me.  It's always one of the most intriguing
challenges of doing the kind of book I write, since I'm often asking people
to share what (I hope) is their essence: how their personality affects the
significant things they do.  When you're talking to people in the crypto
world, as Mike correctly suspects, there's an additional problem in that,
well, secrets are kind of big in that realm.

Two things I had going for me.  One was time.  Doing a book (and being a
couple years late in finishing!) means you get to be a presence on the
scene, you get to see people a lot even if they've been reluctant to speak
freely to date.  They get to know you a bit.  They get to see you're
serious.  They get to thinking maybe if I talk to the guy he'll leave me
alone.  (that's facetious, but maybe not totally).  They certainly will hear
you out when you explain why you want to talk to them,and it helps when they
know others are.  This works with the second thing, my track record.  It was
a help here insofar as a lot of people were familiar with Hackers or
Artificial Life.   In talking to government folks, the Newsweek connection
helped too, as did the story I did for the Times magazine which people
considered fair to all side.

Let me check with my editor now...
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #16 of 86: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 9 Feb 01 21:14

And let me just pop in to add that if any of you who are not WELL members
and are reading along on the Web would like to participate by asking your
own questions or adding your own comments, please send them to and we will see that they get posted for you.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #17 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Fri 9 Feb 01 22:03
Mike's question about how I got started in sort of explained in Insanely
Great.  Essentially I was a garden-variety freelance writer who wound up
doing a story about computer hackers in 1981.  It appeared in Rolling Stone
in April 1982.  I was so blown away by these people and their culture that I
wanted to do much more, and soon I was spending all my time on the subject.
That was the period during which I wrote Hackers.  As Bob Bickford's
comments illustrate, this book meant a lot to a lot of people, and I am
constantly delighted at the response I still get.  And it's kind of a rare
experience to actually see a lot of the key subjects in one's book --
including many who never met before -- get together at an amazing event and
totally mind-jam with each other.  That's what happened at the first
Hacker's Conference (thanks Kevin and Stewart!), which I consider the best
publication party ever held for a book.

Will Crypto have a similar effect?  As Bob implies, it's certainly not
something I think about.  My goal is to tell a story I think is important.
In a way, I think Crypto has a feel that's similar to Hackers, and there are
some subtle notes in it that may not be apparent on a quick reading.   Stuck
in there are some little seeds about cryptography and its relationship to
the world around us.   My suspicion is that the eventual impact of Crypto
won't be similar to that of Hackers but my hope is that something differnent
will come about.  Certainly as policy issues heat up I hope the book will be
useful.  But I also would like it if readers picked up on those little
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #18 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Fri 9 Feb 01 22:11
Farooq's questions:

It's really tough to get a measure of where government cryptography now
stands in relation to the public community.  It's clear that there are very
sophisticated people and cryptosystems in the open now, but also reasonable
to assume that the folks inside the Triple Fence (and a few foreign
counterparts) are still ahead.  Partly because of heritage, partly because
of resources.  Which leads me to the quantum crypto question.  I have no
inside knowledge of what the hell goes on in the basement of the NSA.  But I
do think that the first really useful quantum computer will be built there.
If it isn't already cranking away. (Otherwise the horizon for quantum
computers seems to be measurable in decades, not years.)

And no, cryptography is not the only thing that will secure e-commerce.
I sort of get into this in the last chapter of Crypto, which steers the
narrative towards some vignettes that were themed, in my mind, "this ain't a
panecea and crypto anarchy ain't around the corner." But I do think that
it's a vital part of e-commerce, and not just in encryption but more exotic
applications in authentication, non-repudiation, and other stuff that brings
(and in some cases improves upon) outside protections to cyberspace.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #19 of 86: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Sat 10 Feb 01 00:17

Here's Declan's Wired News followup on the Osama bin
Laden/Internet/steganography story:

inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #20 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Sat 10 Feb 01 06:13
Declan has done good work on the Bin Laden story.  One interesting aspect of
this that hasn't been mentioned much is that in the embassy bombing trial,
the US introduced as evidence the time. location, and parties of cell calls
made by these guys.  This indicates that even when conversations may be
encrypted, traffic analysis is still useful.

I'm not sure at all that this is the beginning of a new government push to
roll back the relaxed export laws.  But there still is a struggle going on
behind the scenes as places like Microsoft try to deal with some remaining
restrictions as they try to figure out how to get this stuff built into
their systems.  This requires some infrastructure, particularly in key
certification, and conversations I've had with them indicate that there's
some fairly knotty problems, both technically and in dealing with the
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #21 of 86: -N. (streak) Sat 10 Feb 01 14:37
        I've still got my "This shirt classifid as a weapon by the United
States government" sweatshirt.  Be nice if it meant something again,
though I'm not sure the side effects are worth it.
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #22 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Sun 11 Feb 01 15:25
Yeah, and I have my "Don't Let Big Brother Have a Master Key" shirt.

I want to respond to a question earlier about whether the gov't
actually believes it can stop Bin Laden (and other baddies) from
getting hold of crypto.  Obviously, it can't, and obviously the people
in our government don't think that they can wipe out crypto from the
face of the earth.   The fight over the past decade has been whether
these tools can be built into systems.  This makes it incredibly easier
and more secure for the bad guys.  For one thing, they can
communication securely with everybody--not just the people who take
pains to get software on the other end.  Quite often the difficuilty of
finding and using add-on secruity programs is so frustrating that
people take shortcuts, which of course the government can exploit. 
Also, many of those programs have flaws that world-class codebreakers
can jump on.   On the other hand, picture the situation is Microsoft
and everyone else uses a security standard.  It will not only be
ubitious (even "stupid criminals" would get to use it), but almost
certainly more secure.  Sure, we'd learn about this flaw or that as
some grad student finds a weakness. But then a patch would appear, and
eventually we'd have something that might even frustrate the
crytanalytic ninjas at Fort Meade. So it's not about getting rid of all
strong crypto, but stopping it from becoming standard. 
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #23 of 86: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 11 Feb 01 16:56
Isn't it also that it frustrates the practice (of the NSA if not other
agencies) of scanning communications?
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #24 of 86: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Sun 11 Feb 01 17:08

  Steven, do you think the spooks realize they can't win that battle?
That third-party software for this purpose is getting easier to use
and install every day?  Are they in denial about this, or are they
simply willing to accept whatever delay they can create and call that
a win?
inkwell.vue.103 : Steven Levy - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government
permalink #25 of 86: Steven Levy (steven) Sun 11 Feb 01 17:55
Third party software might be getting easier, but you still are
limited to communicating with others who use the same software.    And
there have been broad hints that many third party programs aren't
really bulletproof.   Murky stuff, huh?

But Bob is right that the stuff gets better and better. 

 And Jon is right that the more stuff is encrypted the harder it is to
scan massive amounts of traffic.  That's why I think that the NSA now
understands that it has to accomodate a drastically new reality.  And I
wouldn't be surprised if some stalling were part of their strategy. 
Still, the OTHER part of their mission is to make sure our own
communications are protected. And more and more it appears that without
crypto in circulation, national security (and economic well-being) is
threatened.   This other reality gets harder and harder to ignore, and
was, I believe, part of the reason that the export regs got relaxed.


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