Encryption: Privacy versus National Security Essay

2485 Words10 Pages
Abstract: The use of encryption by individuals is growing at a tremendous rate, and since 1991 cryptography issues have engulfed both the U.S. government as well as the computing industry. One of the most controversial of these issues is whether encryption should be made supremely secure to the highest-level current technology will allow, or whether a "master key" should be locked away somewhere, only to be used when absolutely justified. Both sides of the issue have their benefits and detriments; the problem is finding the middle ground that will provide the greatest benefit to society.

In the past decade, rapid advances have been made in the field of cryptography. These advances have brought considerable
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DES encrypts data using a 56-bit key, which means that there are 256 possible key values. Before the 90s, cracking such a scheme was simply beyond the scope of any supercomputer. Therefore, the computing community accepted DES as secure, although initially it was very controversial, due to the National Security Agency altering its design before adopting it as a standard.[2] The government also accepted DES because the use of digital communications and the Internet itself were both still in their infancy, and so their traditional methods of providing national security were still valid. The only people who really used encryption were the government itself and large companies.[3]

With the rise of the World Wide Web and increasingly widespread use of network services such as email, the government began to become concerned about the possible implications of securely encrypted communications. Specifically, the release of free software called Pretty Good Privacy in 1991 by Philip Zimmerman caused the most concern.[3] PGP allows encryption of email and other documents using the RSA public key standard with a 128 bit key, currently uncrackable by anyone, or any government. Around the same time that the government was losing faith in the current cryptography policies, the computing public began losing faith in DES, and rightly so. Moore's Law made the original DES algorithm officially obsolete in 1998,
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