Rogers, the Canadian telecoms giant, and Alcatel-Lucent, recently purchased by Nokia, are proposing a solution to the question of how to make sure that everyday conversation are secure while still leaving an option for law enforcement to listen in when the need arises.
The two companies propose a solution in the form of a backdoor, with a secret code that would be able to decrypt otherwise secure communications and would only be available to law enforcement agencies. The idea was envisioned four years ago when Rogers and Alcatel-Lucent produced a proposal for lawful interception that would be applied to next-generation protocols for voice encryption, named MIKEY-IBAKE.
The point of the protocol is to encrypt a conversation so that nobody can listen in on it, giving it end-to-end protection. However, the protocol would carry an exception for law enforcement, a so called backdoor, that would allow them to eavesdrop if required and authorized.
Potential for Exploitation
One glaring problem is immediately obvious with this solution, if there is a backdoor then there is the potential for exploitation by people other than law enforcement. This issue is the main reason why security professionals staunchly oppose any solutions that involve backdoors. However, not only is there opposition in the U.S. to the encryption as it could be too easily misused, the Rogers and Alcatel-Lucent proposal was already turned down in the UK by the country’s spy agencies as being too hard to intercept.
In its place, The GCHQ proposed the earlier MIKEY-SAKKE alternative standard which would be much easier to eavesdrop on, and the government has been lobbying for its adoption in commercial and government products. However, MIKEY-IBAKE has not yet been implemented after the standardization proposal that was submitted by Nokia to 3GPP SAE was refused.