Security Watch

What It's Like When The FBI Asks You To Backdoor Your Software
Max Eddy

At a recent RSA Security Conference, Nico Sell was on stage announcing that her company—Wickr®—was making drastic changes to ensure its users' security. She said that the company would switch from RSA encryption to elliptic curve encryption, and that the service wouldn't have a backdoor for anyone.

As she left the stage, before she'd even had a chance to take her microphone off, a man approached her and introduced himself as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He then proceeded to "casually" ask if she'd be willing to install a backdoor into Wickr® that would allow the FBI to retrieve information...

It was clear that the FBI agent didn't know who he was dealing with, because Sell did not back down. Instead, she lectured him on topics ranging from the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, to George Washington's creation of a Post Office in the US. "My ancestor was as drummer boy under Washington," Sell explained. "Washington thought it was very important to have freedom of information and private correspondence without government surveillance."

"I'm not against helping law enforcement, but the most important thing to me is protecting my friends and family the best way I know how," said Sell. She suggested that the NSA and other agencies go back to a model where individuals are targeted, instead of monitoring all communications and sorting it out later. "There are plenty of ways to track people without trampling human rights," she said.



Think you can live offline without being tracked? Here's what it takes
Sarah Kessler

Nico Sell, the cofounder of a secure communication app called Wickr®, has appeared on television twice. Both times, she wore sunglasses to prevent viewers from getting a full picture of what she looks like. Sell, also an organizer of the hacker conference Def Con, places herself in the top 1% of the “super paranoid.” She doesn’t have a Facebook account. She keeps the device that pays her tolls in a transmission-proof envelope when it’s not in use. And she assumes that every phone call she makes and every email she sends will be searchable by the general public at some point in the future. Many of her friends once considered her habits to be of the tin-foil-hat-wearing variety. But with this summer's revelations of the NSA's broad surveillance program, they’re starting to look a little more logical...

Friends can be an impediment to a life off the radar. For one, they probably think they’re doing you a favor when they invite you to a party using Evite, add you to LinkedIn or Facebook, or keep your information in a contact book that they sync with their computer. But from your perspective, as someone trying to remain as untraceable as possible, they are selling you out. “Basically what they’ve done is uploaded all of my contact information and connected it to them,” Sell says. Same goes for photos, and their geolocation metadata, when they're added to social networking sites. Sell, with her sunglasses, is not alone in being concerned about putting her appearance online.


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