The clueless in pursuit of the impossible

Oscar Wilde famously defined fox-hunting as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the unbeatable”. Something like that always comes to mind at the moment when US and other law-enforcement bosses attack tech companies like Apple and Google for building serious encryption into their mobile products. As The Register puts it‘ “WHY can’t Silicon Valley create breakable non-breakable encryption? cry US politicians”.

Where do you begin when faced with such cluelessness? The Reg asked a few cryptographic experts:

There’s just one problem with the government’s idea as it stands: it’s impossible from a technology, business, and international standpoint. Not a single one of the cryptography and security experts El Reg spoke to at the show could see any way such a system would work.

“It’s impossible,” Bruce Schneier – the man who literally wrote the book(s) on modern encryption techniques – told The Reg. “I can’t create mathematics that works differently in the presence of a particular legal piece of paper. Math just doesn’t work that way.” As Schneier has explained many times, strong crypto requires a sound encryption algorithm, correct digital signature handling, a random number generator that can’t be fooled, and a working methodology to house all of these and that doesn’t allow mistakes. Get one thing wrong and the whole system breaks down.

Quite. What was it TH Huxley said about “the slaughter of a beautiful idea by an ugly fact”?