So what are our spymasters up to with their sudden public ragings about encryption. I've seen comments about them being dumb, but they are not dumb people (and even if they couldn't tell their arse from their underpants on IT they are well briefed (sorry)). There are suggestions that they are lobbying politicians - but that also doesn't make sense. They don't need to, they have other paths into the corridors of power, and loud yelling is not their usual tack - is almost alien to them in fact. Not only that the NSA and their minions in GCHQ had a unified message. So they clearly had meetings, planned and co-ordinated between agencies before going live.
So here's another suggestion:
- We have a bunch of US companies who are already taking a huge hiding in the global market (Microsoft have pretty much been shown the door in China for example)
- We have a bunch of spooks who believe (and probably genuinely believe the big data propaganda) that if you collect everything and stick it into computers magic will happen and it will save the world (see collect underpants, ? , profit)
- We have a political elite who are scared of foreign terrorism (irrespective of rational risk assessment) and also of serious disorder causes by the gap between rich and poor.
One of the interesting jobs of the spooks is to protect US economic interests - the US apparatus spies on governments, business deals, trade treaties, and according to US definitions that is their job.. If the UN gets cross and Angela Merkel doesn't appreciate having her phone tapped then in their book the offence was "getting caught".
Driving Microsoft out of China and killing Google is quite the reverse of their job, so they can't actually publically win a fight over "strong" crypto without losing a bigger battle and having everything they really want to spy on move out of the USA entirely.
Neither the spooks nor the government are going to give up on intercept. They don't care about fringe community projects, and they don't care about distributed social networks (because encrypted or not they provide the critical relationship data by connection information). They probably don't care too much about Tor because they now own enough endpoints to do entry/exit timing attacks.
They cannot however have Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc as black boxes. That breaks all their mapping of relationships because they can no longer see "A talked to B" just "A, B, and a million other people talked to Facebook"
The big companies seem to bitch a lot - but in the ISP case they bitch about who pays, and in the general case the leaks suggest they are actually rather more compliant than they pretend to be (indeed given the US demonstration that they as willing as supposedly 'nasty' governments to bury even CEOs who don't play ball - see Joseph Nacchio) I somehow doubt they want to fight too hard.
However they have a problem - if people think they are NSA proxies then they will move elsewhere.
The spooks have the same problem. What's worse than people moving off US cloud platforms - people moving to foreign ones. If tax evaders or terrorists decide to move to Russian or Chinese or Brazilian services or setup their own cloud then their job gets harder. If businesses move off US cloud platforms then they lose their intelligence gathering on business deals and the US economic interest that they must protect suffers.
So the spooks and elite need intercept to remain, it's clearly not a negotiable issue for them. The companies need to be seen to not be NSA stooges.
This leads to the following interesting possibility
- The spooks will continue to yell a lot to convince people the are losing and the US cloud is now "secure"
- The vendors will continue to be seen to implement strong encryption and fight the evil NSA people to continue to get business (and suck in things the spooks want to watch)
- And behind closed doors they'll work together to keep up the appearance of a big fight while they continue to plug the NSA into everything
Isn't that a happy thought ....