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Distinguished Lecture | Women in Computing

Crypto Wars Part Deux: How the NSA is Making Us All Less Safe

Cindy CohnLegal DirectorElectronic Frontier Foundation
1670 Beyster BuildingMap

Abstract – We all live in an increasingly networked world. And one of the preconditions of that world has to be basic computer security””freedom to use strong technologies that are fully trustworthy. Ensuring your ability to have real security and privacy online was one of EFF’s earliest goals and protecting your ability to use strong encryption was one of our first victories. The Clipper Chip proposal, that sought to mandate government-backdoored encryption, was defeated in the late 1990s and the encryption export regulations that had stymied growth of the science were rolled back shortly thereafter. And we thought the matter was settled: the government had no business sabotaging the security of digital devices or communications.

That’s why the revelations last fall that the NSA was actively attacking the security systems we all rely on was so shocking and, frankly, angering. Having lost its efforts to make us less safe in Congress, in the public debate, and in the courts, the NSA simply thumbed its nose at our democratic mechanisms and proceeded to sabotage our security anyway””in secret.. By weakening encryption, the NSA allows others to more easily break it. By installing backdoors and other vulnerabilities in systems, the NSA exposes them to other malicious hackers””whether they are foreign governments or criminals. And the reported complicity of the company RSA, for a $10 million payout, has outraged the security community. As security expert Bruce Schneier explained, “It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create.”

I’ll discuss the history of the first fight to protect strong encryption. what we know about the second one, and discuss, hopefully with audience input, where we go from here.

Biography –Cindy Cohn is the Legal Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as its General Counsel. She is responsible for overseeing the EFF’s overall legal strategy and supervising EFF’s fourteen staff attorneys. Ms. Cohn first became involved with the EFF in 1993, when the EFF asked her to serve as the outside lead attorney in Bernstein v. Dept. of Justice, the successful First Amendment challenge to the U.S. export restrictions on cryptography. Outside the Courts, Ms. Cohn has testified before Congress, been featured in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere for her work on digital rights and has traveled onto the Internet with Stephen Colbert.

The National Law Journal named Ms. Cohn one of 100 most influential lawyers in America in 2013, noting: ” [I]f Big Brother is watching, he better look out for Cindy Cohn.” She was also named in 2006 for “rushing to the barricades wherever freedom and civil liberties are at stake online.” In 2007 the National Law Journal named her one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in America. In 2010 Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of California awarded her its Intellectual Property Vanguard Award and in 2012 the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awarded her the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.

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