Encryption is the answerWednesday, June 17th, 2009 by Harry Lewis
In Blown to Bits we spend all of Chapter 5 making the argument that (a) perfect secrecy is possible through public key encryption and (b) almost no one encrypts their email anyway. Why this would be the case is one of those small mysteries of the universe. Few of us actually know people who know that their email has been read, but most of the time we’d have no way to know that. If you are sitting in Starbucks and the guy with the double mocha latte is running a packet sniffer, you’d never know the difference.
Today’s New York Times has the kind of story that might lead more people to take the issue seriously. It seems likely that the NSA is snooping on more email than they’d like to admit. The simple fact that the cost of surveillance has plummeted in itself makes abuse more likely. (THe NSA doesn’t need to loiter at Starbucks. They can get access to ISPs’ switching equipment.)
If you use Google’s Gmail, you can encrypt all your mail. The preference setting is pretty obscure, and you have to opt-in: the default is no encryption. Chris Soghoian, I, and a number of other computer scientists and security experts have just called on Google to make encryption the default. Our letter explains it all: You can read it here.