The growing tension between the U.S. government's demand for "back door" to access information on and cryptographers' efforts to preserve privacy was a central theme of an RSA 2015 Tuesday.
Whether it's a front door or a back door doesn't matter, said Adi Shamir, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. "It just means that the NSA will have to take your house and turn it around." Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Ron Rivest argued that if the U.S. government gets a key to private data, other governments would demand the same access. "If this is going to be a house with many doors with keys held by many parties, it's not going to work," he said.
The government, nevertheless, will persist in pushing for such access, as it did in the 1990s when it sought a "key in escrow" to be able to read encrypted data, said NSA veteran Ed Giorgio, calling it "an ongoing negotiation." But it isn't just the intelligence services and law enforcement that's angling for a way around encryption, said Whitfield Diffie, a pioneer of public-key encryption: "Companies want you to be secure, but not against them."
The balance between security and privacy has been a dominant theme so far at the 2015 RSA show.