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The Not-so-hidden Consequences of the UK Investigatory Powers Bill

The Not-so-hidden Consequences of the UK Investigatory Powers Bill

December 28, 2016 | Scott Carter

The British government has taken the next step in what appears to be a global wave of surveillance legislation. Earlier this year Russian began enforcing the Yarovya law Internet companies to begin “arching” their cryptographic keys and digital certificates with the FSB, the successor to the KGB. But the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill is thought to be the most extreme surveillance program of any developed Western nation.

The Investigatory Powers Bill (familiarly dubbed the Snooper’s Charter) would give Home Security the power to hack into computers, networks, mobile devices, servers and more. Wired Magazine sums up the potential impact of the Snooper’s Charter, which “could include downloading data from a mobile phone that is stolen or left unattended, or software that tracks every keyboard letter pressed being installed on a laptop.”

In fact, the bill goes so far that it has already been challenged in the European Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court. The court ruled the Snooper’s Charter unlawful, citing the “general and indiscriminate” retention of electronic communications by the government as illegal. But this ruling may be overturned if the UK leaves the EU.

But what does this mean to the companies and citizens of the UK? Venafi VP of security strategy, Kevin Bocec believes that it will compel businesses to become part of the government’s surveillance program, including breaking encryption. Instead of trying to use backdoors to break encryption, government will weaken the system of privacy and authentication that's secured digital innovation for the past two decades.

According to Bocek, “Businesses that use common technology like HTTPS need to assume they'll be responsible for handing over cryptographic keys and certificates on demand to the government in the not-too-distant future. This may make businesses think twice about using stronger security technologies like encryption, especially if it requires complying with more and more intrusive government action.”

Bocek is also extremely concerned that the Snoopers Charter’s unintended consequences will far outweigh any benefits. “Forcing legitimate companies to participate in surveillance programs creates blueprints for new attacks.”

He cites Stuxnet as an example: the US government exploited the Windows’ blind trust in digital certificates. Soon cyber criminals began creating malware authorized with stolen digital certificates. Today, the malicious use of certificates is common place—Intel Security is currently tracking over 22M pieces of malware enabled by code signing certificates.

Do we really want governments to chart the course for cyber criminals to expoit surveillance techniques? 

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About the author

Scott Carter
Scott Carter

Scott is Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Venafi. With over 20 years in cybersecurity marketing, his expertise leads him to help large organizations understand the risk to machine identities and why they should protect them

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