Strong Crypto Is Widely Available Outside The US, So Restrictions Are Unlikely To Thwart Terrorism

  • Yael Grauer
  • Forbes
  • February 11, 2016

Just today, security technologist and author Bruce Schneier, along with Kathleen Seidel and Saranya Vijayakumar, unveiled a new international survey of encryption products compiled as part of his fellowship at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The survey found a total of 865 hardware or software products incorporating encryption from 55 different countries, 546 (around two-thirds) of which were from outside the US. The products included voice encryption, file encryption, email encryption, and text message encryption products, as well was 61 VPNs.

The worldwide survey shows that encryption products are widely available internationally, indicating that any US restrictions on unbreakable crypto are far less likely to thwart terrorists and criminals (who can switch to more secure foreign alternatives) as much as they will negatively impact US companies’ bottom line and the safety and security of everyday internet users who typically don’t spend a lot of time worrying about encryption.

All sorts of crypto products—free and paid, open-source and proprietary—are available around the world. In fact, 374 of the 587 entities listed in the report as either selling or giving away crypto products are based outside of the US. Prominent countries include Germany (with 112 products), the UK, Canada, France and Sweden, but the report states that “smaller countries like Algeria, Argentina, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Chile, Cyprus, Estonia, Iraq, Malaysia, St. Kitts, Tanzania, and Thailand each produce at least one encryption product.” The report indicates that there is no substantial difference in quality between US and foreign crypto products.

Seventeen years ago, researchers at George Washington University worked on a similar project when they attempted to compile the myriad of encryption products available across the world. Their work showed that export restrictions not only put US companies at a distinct competitive disadvantage, but also did very little to stem the tide of crypto products available around the world. Since that report, encryption products have become widely available online, rather than primarily by mail. In addition, information about products is comprehensively documented online. Therefore, even though there are fewer crypto products today than there were in 1999, they are far easier to come by.

The researchers believe their list—which is also available as an Excel file and csv file—is not entirely comprehensive. They plan to update it regularly with information from readers to fill in the blanks on encryption algorithms used, whether marketing refers to NSA surveillance or laws mandating backdoors, and which products and companies are missing—especially those outside the US.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.