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The "Athens Affair" shows why we need encryption without backdoors

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Reprinted from The Guardian

Revelations about the hack that allowed Greek politicians to be spied on in 2004 come at a time when the White House is set to announce its encryption policy

The only way to make sure our date is safe is to keep it encrypted.
The only way to make sure our date is safe is to keep it encrypted.
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Just as it seems the White House is close to finally announcing its policy on encryption -- the FBI has been pushing for tech companies like Apple and Google to insert backdoors into their phones so the US government can always access users' data -- new Snowden revelations and an investigation by a legendary journalist show exactly why the FBI's plans are so dangerous.

One of the biggest arguments against mandating backdoors in encryption is the fact that, even if you trust the United States government never to abuse that power (and who does?), other criminal hackers and foreign governments will be able to exploit the backdoor to use it themselves. A backdoor is an inherent vulnerability that other actors will attempt to find and try to use it for their own nefarious purposes as soon as they know it exists, putting all of our cybersecurity at risk.

In a meticulous investigation, longtime NSA reporter James Bamford reported at the Intercept Tuesday that the NSA was behind the notorious "Athens Affair." In surveillance circles, the Athens Affair is stuff of legend: after the 2004 Olympics, the Greek government discovered that an unknown attacker had hacked into Vodafone's "lawful intercept" system, the phone company's mechanism of wiretapping phone calls. The attacker spied on phone calls of the president, other Greek politicians and journalists before it was discovered.

According to Bamford's story, all this happened after the US spy agency cooperated with Greek law enforcement to keep an eye on potential terrorist attacks for the Olympics. Instead of packing up their surveillance gear, they covertly pointed it towards the Greek government and its people. But that's not all: according to Snowden documents that Bamford cited, this is a common tactic of the NSA. They often attack the "lawful intercept" systems in other countries to spy on government and citizens without their knowledge:

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Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and lawyer who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He has contributed to  The (more...)

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