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Terrorists hiding behind impenetrable communication, says FBI

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Since the Paris attacks, there's been lots of concern in Washington and other world capitals over fears of how terrorists can communicate by going dark, namely, using an array of technologies to hide from law enforcement before and after attacks.

    In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, investigators are still hunting for answers to how the terrorists communicated with each other and eluded surveillance. But their eyes are on the now ubiquitous cell phone, which can send coded information using free, readily available technologies that defy cracking by intelligence agencies and even the companies that created them.

    In Washington yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Richard Burr, said that very technology was probably at play in Paris.

    SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), North Carolina: Globally, we need to begin the debate on what we do on encrypted networks, because it makes us blind to communications and to the actions of potential adversaries.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's called end-to-end encryption, meaning data gets encrypted or locked away with special codes on one device and is only decrypted when it reaches another.

    Popular applications like WhatsApp, Apple's iMessage, Threema and Telegram all operate this way. Some of the encrypted apps, like Dstrux, also employ technology that makes messages disappear after they're delivered, leaving no trace.

    Terrorists conceal their work using other sites like JustPaste.it. It is one place the Islamic State group posts messages and claims of responsibility without having to register. The TOR browser bounces communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers, hiding both the user's activity and location.

    Terrorist groups have even created their own encrypted software specifically to evade detection by the National Security Agency.

    CIA Director John Brennan today warned that the digital world respects no sovereign borders.

  • JOHN BRENNAN, CIA Director:

    You can move things around the world at the speed of light, and hop around so many countries, and unless there's going to be some kind of international understanding about what is appropriate and acceptable within that digital domain, we're going to face a world of hurt in the future.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The tech industry is against giving up encrypted or backdoor information. In October, the Obama administration backed down from its earlier request for access, appearing to accept the argument this would simultaneously open the door to hackers, cyber-criminals and terrorists.

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