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End-to-End Encryption

  • 12 Dec 2022
  • 6 min read

Prelims: Cryptographic keys, Data Protection, Data Protection Laws.

Mains: Advantages and Disadvantages of End-to-End Encryption.

Why in News?

Recently, Apple has announced it will be increasing the number of data points protected by End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) on iCloud from 14 to 23 categories.

What is the Purpose of Announcing this?

  • According to a data-breach-research by Apple, the total number of data breaches more than tripled between 2013 and 2021. Data of 1.1 billion personal records were exposed in 2021 alone.
  • With end-to-end encryption, user data will be protected even in case data is breached in the cloud. The extra layer of protection would be valuable to targets of hacking attacks launched by well-funded groups.

What is End-to-End Encryption?

  • About:
    • End-to-end encryption is a communication process that encrypts data being shared between two devices.
    • It prevents third parties like cloud service providers, internet service providers (ISPs) and cybercriminals from accessing data while it is being transferred.
  • Mechanism:
    • The cryptographic keys used to encrypt and decrypt the messages are stored on the endpoints.
    • The process of end-to-end encryption uses an algorithm that transforms standard text into an unreadable format.
    • This format can only be unscrambled and read by those with the decryption keys, which are only stored on endpoints and not with any third parties including companies providing the service.
  • Usage:
    • E2EE has long been used when transferring business documents, financial details, legal proceedings, and personal conversations.
    • It can also be used to control users’ authorisation when accessing stored data.
    • End-to-end encryption is used to secure communications.
    • It is also used to secure passwords, protect stored data and safeguard data on cloud storage.

What are the Advantages of E2EE?

  • Security in Transit:
    • End-to-end encryption uses public key cryptography, which stores private keys on the endpoint devices. Messages can only be decrypted using these keys, so only people with access to the endpoint devices are able to read the message.
  • Safety from Third Parties:
    • E2EE ensures that user data is protected from unwarranted parties including service providers, cloud storage providers, and companies that handle encrypted data.
  • Tamper-Proof:
    • With E2EE, the decryption key does not have to be transmitted; the recipient will already have it.
    • If a message encrypted with a public key gets altered or tampered within transit, the recipient will not be able to decrypt it, so the tampered contents will not be viewable.
  • Compliance:
    • Many industries are bound by regulatory compliance laws that require encryption-level data security.
    • E2EE can help organizations protect that data by making it unreadable.

What are the Disadvantages of E2EE?

  • Complexity in Defining the Endpoints:
    • Some E2EE implementations allow the encrypted data to be encrypted and re-encrypted at certain points during transmission.
    • This makes it important to clearly define and distinguish the endpoints of the communication circuit. If endpoints are compromised, encrypted data may be revealed.
  • Too Much Privacy:
    • Government and law enforcement agencies express concern that E2EE can protect people sharing illicit content because service providers are unable to provide law enforcement with access to the content.
  • No Protection to Metadata:
    • Although messages in transit are encrypted and impossible to read, information about the message - date of sending message and recipient, for instance - is still visible, which may provide useful information to an interloper.

What is the Legal Framework for Encryption in India?

  • Minimum Encryption Standards:
    • India does not have a specific encryption law. Although, a number of industry rules, such as those governing the banking, finance, and telecommunications industries, include requirements for minimum encryption standards to be utilised in protecting transactions.
  • Prohibition on Encryption Technologies:
    • Users are not authorised to employ encryption standards larger than 40 bits using symmetric key algorithms or similar methods without prior clearance and deposition of decryption keys, according to the licencing agreement between the ISP and the DoT.
    • There are a variety of additional rules and recommendations that use a greater encryption level than 40 bits for particular sectors.
  • The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021:
    • It superseded the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
    • The new set of rules have the potential to impact the end-to-end encryption techniques of social messaging applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, etc.
  • Information Technology Act of 2000:
    • It regulates electronic and wireless modes of communication, is devoid of any substantive provision or policy on encryption.

Source: TH

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