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Encryption’s Role in Journalism and the Future of Data Security [Encryption Digest 49]

Encryption’s Role in Journalism and the Future of Data Security [Encryption Digest 49]

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October 9, 2020 | Alexa Hernandez

It is a widespread practice for news media outlets and independent journalists to provide sources with encrypted apps and secure mailboxes to receive sensitive information that would previously be shared in cartoonish manilla envelopes marked “TOP SECRET”. Data encryption as a means of upholding journalistic integrity was introduced NOT by one of the nation’s top news organizations (as one would assume), but by WikiLeaks. Founder Julian Assange referred to the practice of using cryptology to protect sources’ anonymity so they can share confidential material as “scientific journalism”.

He essentially eliminated the risk of public scrutiny and legal consequences for whistleblowers to come forward when they otherwise may have kept quiet. Will this basic tenant of journalism remain intact if classic data encryption is no longer as secure as it once was? The future of industries such as journalism—which require a bulletproof strategy for encryption to function properly—may depend on a reliable new method of data security once quantum computing becomes standard.

WikiLeaks Introduced Data Encryption to Modern Journalism

According to Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks was using data encryption years before it was adopted by mainstream news sources. The intention was to offer the public a way of holding news sources accountable when they were caught betraying the basic journalistic tenants of truth and transparency. WikiLeaks would post original documentation that readers could then compare to reports published by the media, and check for accuracy.

This revolutionary new model created a platform for whistleblowers to quickly and easily leak incendiary stories and dangerous secrets in a space where anonymity and security were guaranteed. As Assange phrased it, he “liberated cryptology”.

The concept of radical honestly and complete transparency in journalism sounds utopian, but it is only as strong as the data encryption used to protect those sources and securely share that information. If the fear of exposure and legal persecution is reintroduced, the entire system falls apart.

Quantum Cryptology is the Future of Data Security

Advances in quantum computing have brought the security of classic data encryption into question. While the majority of standard computers do not have the processing power to hack these messages, a quantum computer armed with the speed of quantum computing can hack, for instance, a typical 128-bit encryption key fairly easily. Quantum cryptology, however, is not so easily hacked.

Using the principles of quantum mechanics, quantum cryptology secures data with polarized photons in a manner that only the sender and receiver can access. In fact, quantum cryptology actually alerts the recipient of a polarized key to any attempts by hackers to intercept it. The receiver can then instantly alert the sender to cancel the data transmission of the encrypted key and request a new one.

As one would expect, there are some drawbacks. While quantum cryptology does have the benefit of requiring far less resources to main, this does leave the possibility of largescale layoffs. Additionally, it lacks other features such as a digital signature.

Here’s How I See It

It’s clear that the ability to provide a secure platform for people to feel confident coming forward with leaks and information that could prove dangerous to them is absolutely necessary to ensure the masses are kept as informed as possible. Even considering the drawbacks of quantum cryptology, it remains fact that a true breakthrough in quantum computing will make classic encryption less secure.

WikiLeaks is responsible for bringing such data encryption to the world of journalism, and this contribution has radically raised the bar to which the public holds media outlets. But for this to continue, there must always be trust in the platform that sources use. If the security of classic data encryption as we know it can’t provide that, quantum cryptology will have to be the next step.
 

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About the author

Alexa Hernandez
Alexa Hernandez

Alexa is the Web Marketing Specialist at Venafi.

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