Apple and Other Tech Giants Condemn GCHQ Proposal to Eavesdrop on Encrypted Messages

Apple and other tech giants have joined civil society groups and security experts in condemning proposals from Britain's cybersecurity agency that would enable law enforcement to access end-to-end encrypted messages (via CNBC).

1280px GCHQ aerial

British Government's Communications HQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

In an open letter to the U.K.'s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), 47 signatories including Apple, Google and WhatsApp urged the U.K. eavesdropping agency to ditch plans for its so-called "ghost protocol," which would require encrypted messaging services to direct a message to a third recipient, at the same time as sending it to its intended user.

Ian Levy, the technical director of Britain's National Cyber Security Centre, and Crispin Robinson, GCHQ's head of cryptanalysis, published details of the proposal in November 2018. In the essay, Levy and Robinson claimed the system would enable law enforcement to access the content of encrypted messages without breaking the encryption.

The officials argued it would be "relatively easy for a service provider to silently add a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call," and claimed this would be "no more intrusive than the virtual crocodile clips," which are currently used in wiretaps of non-encrypted chat and call apps.

Signatories of the letter opposing the plan argued that the proposal required two changes to existing communications systems that were a "serious threat" to digital security and fundamental human rights, and would undermine user trust.

"First, it would require service providers to surreptitiously inject a new public key into a conversation in response to a government demand. This would turn a two-way conversation into a group chat where the government is the additional participant, or add a secret government participant to an existing group chat.

"Second, in order to ensure the government is added to the conversation in secret, GCHQ's proposal would require messaging apps, service providers, and operating systems to change their software so that it would 1) change the encryption schemes used, and/or 2) mislead users by suppressing the notifications that routinely appear when a new communicant joins a chat.

"The overwhelming majority of users rely on their confidence in reputable providers to perform authentication functions and verify that the participants in a conversation are the people they think they are, and only those people. The GCHQ's ghost proposal completely undermines this trust relationship and the authentication process."

Apple's strong stance against weakened device protections for the sake of law enforcement access was highlighted in the 2016 Apple vs. FBI conflict that saw Apple refuse to create a backdoor access solution to allow the FBI to crack the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

Responding to the open letter, which was first sent to GCHQ on May 22, the National Cyber Security Centre's Ian Levy told CNBC: "We welcome this response to our request for thoughts on exceptional access to data — for example to stop terrorists. The hypothetical proposal was always intended as a starting point for discussion."

"We will continue to engage with interested parties and look forward to having an open discussion to reach the best solutions possible," Levy said.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

gnasher729 Avatar
64 months ago
Two recent news reports: Criminals in the USA are using malware stolen from the NSA to hack into companies' computers, encrypt files, and ask for ransom money. Criminals in China are using malware most likely stolen from the Chinese governments to hack into companies' servers and install malware for bitcoin mining.

If the NSA cannot keep its malware from being stolen by criminals, and the Chinese government cannot keep its malware from being stolen by criminals, what are the chances that GCHQ can read encrypted messages, without that ability getting stolen by criminals? Zero.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Quu Avatar
64 months ago
This is a better approach than forcing a backdoor. It's not the right solution yet but with tweaks (e.g., no changes to encryption, only done after a warrant) it could work. This is essentially wiretapping.
What you've just said is essentially acceptance of the status quo because wiretapping has been done in the past why not apply it to technology of today.

When instead we should be asking ourselves, should wiretapping be allowed at all? - Now that we have the technical means to withstand that kind of attack on our communications should we allow it to continue?

I think not. Also we need to keep mind of the slippery slope that is occuring. You cannot compel someone to give up a password to their device but they can force you to look at your FaceID or place your finger on a TouchID fingerprint reader.

What happens in 50 years from now when we get the ability to access people's memories directly from their brains using some kind of special sensor placed on the skull? - Well we had wiretaps to hear what people said on the phone, then we had that encryption law that let us add ourselves to conversations held in apps.. this is just a natural extension of that, now we can actually see what they said right from their own brains.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DVD9 Avatar
64 months ago
"We welcome this response to our request for thoughts on exceptional access to data — for example to stop terrorists.

How about you physically remove from your country those responsible for creating the terrorists?

That's the only kind of help I'm going to seek from any "security forces".
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
vrDrew Avatar
64 months ago
The British Government has lost the plot when it comes to data collection.

Under a new program, police are demanding that victims of sexual assault turn over the entirety of the data on their mobile phones, or else they will refuse to prosecute ('https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/rape-victims-phones-police-investigation-disclosure-forms-cps-a8888376.html').

Governments can rationalise pretty much anything. It's up to the people to stand up and say: Enough!
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GaryMumford Avatar
64 months ago
GCHQ = Mini Apple Park
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Sasparilla Avatar
64 months ago
"We welcome this response to our request for thoughts on exceptional access to data -- for example to stop terrorists..."

I love this - cause the terrorists are going to be using the messaging apps that can monitored by the governments? Um, no. This is about the government being able to monitor the general citizenry's communications cause they want to.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iOS 18 Siri Integrated Feature

iOS 18 Will Add These New Features to Your iPhone

Friday April 12, 2024 11:11 am PDT by
iOS 18 is expected to be the "biggest" update in the iPhone's history. Below, we recap rumored features and changes for the iPhone. iOS 18 is rumored to include new generative AI features for Siri and many apps, and Apple plans to add RCS support to the Messages app for an improved texting experience between iPhones and Android devices. The update is also expected to introduce a more...
iGBA Feature

Game Boy Emulator for iPhone Now Available in App Store Following Rule Change [Removed]

Sunday April 14, 2024 8:06 am PDT by
A week after Apple updated its App Review Guidelines to permit retro game console emulators, a Game Boy emulator for the iPhone called iGBA has appeared in the App Store worldwide. The emulator is already one of the top free apps on the App Store charts. It was not entirely clear if Apple would allow emulators to work with all and any games, but iGBA is able to load any Game Boy ROMs that...
top stories 13apr2024

Top Stories: M4 Mac Roadmap Leaked, New iPads in Second Week of May, and More

Saturday April 13, 2024 6:00 am PDT by
Apple's hardware roadmap was in the news this week, with things hopefully firming up for a launch of updated iPad Pro and iPad Air models next month while we look ahead to the other iPad models and a full lineup of M4-based Macs arriving starting later this year. We also heard some fresh rumors about iOS 18, due to be unveiled at WWDC in a couple of months, while we took a look at how things ...
new best buy blue

Best Buy Opens Up Sitewide Sale With Record Low Prices on M3 MacBook Air, iPad, and Much More

Saturday April 13, 2024 7:41 am PDT by
Best Buy this weekend has a big sale on Apple MacBooks and iPads, including new all-time low prices on the M3 MacBook Air, alongside the best prices we've ever seen on MacBook Pro, iPad, and more. Some of these deals require a My Best Buy Plus or My Best Buy Total membership, which start at $49.99/year. In addition to exclusive access to select discounts, you'll get free 2-day shipping, an...
iPhone 16 Camera Lozenge 2 Colors

iPhone 16 Plus Rumored to Come in These 7 Colors

Wednesday April 10, 2024 3:52 am PDT by
Apple's iPhone 16 Plus may come in seven colors that either build upon the existing five colors in the standard iPhone 15 lineup or recast them in a new finish, based on a new rumor out of China. According to the Weibo-based leaker Fixed focus digital, Apple's upcoming larger 6.7-inch iPhone 16 Plus model will come in the following colors, compared to the colors currently available for the...
apple silicon feature joeblue

Macs to Get AI-Focused M4 Chips Starting in Late 2024

Thursday April 11, 2024 10:10 am PDT by
Apple will begin updating its Mac lineup with M4 chips in late 2024, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The M4 chip will be focused on improving performance for artificial intelligence capabilities. Last year, Apple introduced the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips all at once in October, so it's possible we could see the M4 lineup come during the same time frame. Gurman says that the entire...