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COMP 607: Reflections on week 4

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By nmas in the group COMP 607: Fall 2015 cohort October 8, 2015 - 2:03pm

Arguing for the proposition that strong encryption should be restricted to licensed users only.

Cryptography has been in use for thousands of years. One of the earliest recorded uses of written encryption dates back to 1900 BC, where an Egyptian scribe used a personal set of hieroglyphs to document an inscription (Kahn, 1967). Organized crime and terrorist organizations have long used innovative techniques to conceal their communications and interactions to stay ahead of the law, pass directions and instructions (Denning & Baugh, 1997; Diffie & Landau, 2007). Simple cryptographic algorithms such as the Ceaser Cipher have been, and always will be, accessible to the general public (Wagner, 2003). However, military and government grade cryptographic devices have been out of reach, if not difficult to obtain and use, due to the strict control in their distribution (Controlled Goods Program, 2015).

Commercial encryption technology, on the other hand, is available to anyone willing to invest in it. To actually control who purchases licenses for software or hardware would be challenging as purchases could be made through proxy organizations. However, there needs to be a concerted effort towards regulating the sale of encryption licenses to prevent, or severely limit, criminals and terrorist organizations from being able to utilize them with nefarious intent. Denning & Baugh (1997, p.86-87) states that encryption poses four levels of threat to law enforcement, public safety and national security. These are failure to obtain evidence to convict, failure to obtain intelligence vital for investigations, failure to avert catastrophic attacks and failure to collect foreign intelligence vital for national security assurance.

The usage of encryption technology by organizations that threaten national security makes it challenging for security organizations to interdict and collect signals and communication intelligence that could be used to deter terrorist acts against the nation. Additionally, as a matter of public safety, it is imperative that access to encryption technology is limited.


Controlled Goods Program. (2015, Sept 24). Retrieved from Public Works and Government Services Canada:

Denning, D. E., & Baugh, E. W. (1997). Encryption and evolving technologies: Tools of organized crime and terrorism. Trends in Organized Crime, 3(1), 84-91. doi:10.1007/s12117-997-1149-1

Diffie, W., & Landau, S. (2007). Privacy on the line: The politics of wiretapping and encryption. MIT Press.

Kahn, D. (1967). The CodeBreakers. Macmillan.

Wagner, N. R. (2003). The laws of cryptography. Retrieved from



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