The Internet is Going Dark; Here’s Why
The interesting story of data encryption
The internet is going dark. This may not, however, be happening in the fashion you might expect. The internet is based on an open system — its protocols and systems are built on freedom of speech. Anyone on the internet can talk to everyone else. Any computer or device connected to the worldwide web can navigate to Google or Facebook. In the past, data was sent “In the clear” between devices. This means that all data was sent without any form of encryption or scrambling of data.
Today that basic principle is, however, changing. Many businesses and websites on the internet are adopting encryption. The process of encryption is simple. Data is scrambled so that only the recipient can decode and understand the output. The reasons behind encryption vary, but most often the main reason is driven by privacy concerns. The move toward encryption started in the medical and banking industries but grew to encompass the entire industry. Today, no one should even consider entering private or confidential information to a site that is not secure.
One somewhat intended consequence of the encryption revolution on the internet is the fact that governments and agencies that are watching internet traffic no longer have a view into the traffic that traverses the internet. This often makes government regulators and policymakers unhappy. In the past law enforcement and the government enjoyed access to internet data in much the same way they had always had access to the telephone system. In the age of the telephone, a law enforcement agent who wanted to watch a suspect could simply ask for a warrant and tap that individual’s phone. The agent could then gather any information they wanted. In the early 2010s, a law enforcement agent could do something similar with internet traffic. Intercepting internet traffic can be done in several ways, but a common method is tapping into the same Wi-Fi network.
The encryption revolution is changing the way regulators can obtain information. With most internet connections encrypted today, regulators are turning toward the endpoints: big companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. While data is often encrypted in transit, the manager of the data, like Facebook, oftentimes has access to the contents once they reach the online site’s server. Because of this trend, law enforcement has begun to put more pressure on big companies to provide data in warrant situations. These companies are not happy with this development. Some, like Apple, have turned to what is called “End-to-end encryption.” The premise behind end-to-end encryption is that the users are the only ones who have access to their data. The company that manages the website or communication platform does not have any insight into what its users are doing. This is useful because the companies that operate in this way have no data to provide. The only answer to law enforcement is “No.”
The internet is going dark because anyone who is outside of a conversation is in the dark — speaking in terms of knowledge of data. Outsiders can no longer gain access to data being sent between nodes on the internet if it is encrypted.