USA Wrestles with Encryption Technology Policies

The University of Texas released a study this week estimating that more than $300 billion (US$) in revenue and some 1.2 million jobs were generated by way of the Internet in the US last year. With that much at stake, security issues are increasingly critical for companies engaged in e-commerce.

A recent survey, published by the non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), found that the US — along with a few other nations such as Israel, Singapore, Tunisia and Vietnam — was in the worldwide minority in restricting the manufacture, sale or use of encryption technologies.

The US and other countries fear that encryption products will be used by criminals or international terrorists to thwart or evade law enforcement and intelligence efforts. Data scrambling technologies, however, which are requisite for the security and integrity of e-commerce transactions, are gaining advocacy through such official bodies as the European Union (EU).

Cryptography — derived from the Greek “kryptos,” meaning hidden, and “graphia,” or writing — is a means to scramble data by utilizing mathematical algorithms. Encryption technology encompasses a wide spectrum of sophistication and possible uses.

Give Me Cryptography

The survey — “Cryptography and Liberty 1999” — polled some 230 countries regarding their official stance on encryption. Although EPIC is largely driven by what they feel to be larger privacy issues, they find common ground with high tech firms that fear diminished business if crypto restrictions are not lifted.

Coincidentally perhaps, on Capitol Hill this week, the House Intelligence and the Senate Commerce Committees are respectively considering legislation that could change the situation in the US. Canada has recently announced encryption-friendly policy, and both privacy advocates and e-commerce professionals hope that a certain world power to the south follows suit.

Hushmail & E-Worms…

Elsewhere in the intersection of cryptography and online consumer interests, Hushmail debuted not long ago, offering “the world’s first, fully encrypted, truly secure, free web-based e-mail.” Hushmail cuts a unique presence, competing with the likes of Hotmail — and a virtually indeterminate slew of free web-based e-mail providers that have debuted over the past year or so — where, according to security experts, sending an e-mail is like sending a postcard. Users can sign up and join in the continued launch of Hushmail’s beta version 1.03.

In other security-related news, Trend Micro last week announced that its technical support team in France had identified a new auto e-mail worm, PE_Pretty Park, that works as a trojan hacker tool to pilfer user password and system information. Operating differently than the traditional self-replicating virus, PrettyPark — also called Trojan.PSW.CHV — is technically a “worm,” and copies itself from computer to computer, spreading by e-mail contact.

The new virus has been moving through Europe, and may have already entered the US. Trend Micro users can download pattern file number 538 for protection, and anyone else can access the same by way of Trend Micro’s free Internet virus scanning service, HouseCall.

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