A temporary alliance of multiple nations around the world comprised of civic society groups, security and policy specialists, and technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and WhatsApp, have signed a letter denouncing the GCHQ’s (Government Communications Headquarters) idea to access encrypted chats.
“The GCHQ’s ghost protocol creates serious threats to digital security: if implemented, it will undermine the authentication process that enables users to verify that they are communicating with the right people, introduce potential unintentional vulnerabilities, and increase risks that communications systems could be abused or misused,” they expressed in the letter. “These cyber-security risks mean that users cannot trust that their communications are secure, as users would no longer be able to trust that they know who is on the other end of their communications, thereby posing threats to fundamental human rights, including privacy and free expression. Further, systems would be subject to new potential vulnerabilities and risks of abuse.”
What’s the purpose of ghost protocol?
The reason for the GCHQ’s “ghost protocol” concept is for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to receive encrypted data from service providers. The GCHQ proposed their motion November of last year in an article on lawfareblog.com. The article was created by Ian Levy of the National Cyber Security Centre, and Crispin Robinson of the GCHQ.
“It’s relatively easy for a service provider to silently add a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call. The service provider usually controls the identity system and so really decides who’s who and which devices are involved — they’re usually involved in introducing the parties to a chat or call,” according to Robinson and Levy. “You end up with everything still being end-to-end encrypted, but there’s an extra ‘end’ on this particular communication. This sort of solution seems to be no more intrusive than the virtual crocodile clips that our democratically elected representatives and judiciary authorise today in traditional voice intercept solutions and certainly doesn’t give any government power they shouldn’t have.”