Encryption-busting law passed in Australia may have global privacy implications

New legislation from Australia could have global consequences for security and privacy on the internet. Controversial laws have been passed which oblige tech companies to allow the police to access encrypted messages, undermining the privacy of encryption.

End-to-end encryption is used by apps like iMessage, WhatApp, Telegram, and Signal to keep messages between users private. It works by taking the message that you are sending and using a string of digits, called a public key, to turn this message into scrambled characters. These scrambled characters are then sent to the recipient, who uses another string of digits, called their private key, to turn the message back into readable text. This means that if your message is intercepted at any point, all that the hackers will be able to see is the scrambled characters. The only person who can read the message is the recipient, who is the only one holding the private key required for decryption.

The high level of security that this system offers has made end-to-end encryption the most popular way to keep messages private. However, government intelligence agencies and police forces around the world have been frustrated by encryption which they say prevents them from doing their job of investigating suspicious persons. To address this issue, the Australian government has now created a new form of “computer access warrant” which allows law enforcement agencies to obtain information directly from a device like a smartphone, and to compel technology companies to help them access this information.

Exactly what this complex legislation will mean in practice is still being debated, but critics from the tech industry have made it clear that they are not on board with governments having this kind of power. Many have interpreted the bill as obliging tech companies to offer backdoor access in their security systems to the government, which is potentially disastrous for security. The bill does have a safeguard which says companies are not required to build “systematic weaknesses” into their software, but the term “systematic” was not defined, meaning that the actual legal requirements are unclear. A further concern with the bill is the lack of judicial oversight in this process. Law enforcement agencies need a warrant to oblige tech companies to comply with them and break the encryption, but after this warrant is issued then there is no further oversight of the system.

Due to the global nature of most tech companies, ordering backdoors built into encryption in Australia could have an impact around the world. As human rights lawyer Lizzie O’Shea points out, “The truth is that there is simply no way to create tools to undermine encryption without jeopardizing digital security and eroding individual rights and freedoms. Hackers with bad intentions will do their utmost to take advantage of any such tools that companies are forced to provide the government.”

Emerging Tech

NYPD has added a bunch of quadcopters to its crime-fighting kit

The New York Police Department is to start using quadcopters in its crime-fighting work. Trained cops will have access to various models for use in particular situations that include search-and-rescue, and hostage situations.

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.

Verizon begins RCS messaging rollout with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

What is RCS messaging? It's the successor to today's text messaging. It offers features like real-time audio, read receipts, and encryption, but adoption so far has been slow. Here's everything you need to know.

How to change your Gmail password in just a few quick steps

Regularly updating your passwords is a good way to stay secure online, but each site and service has their own way of doing it. Here's a quick guide on how to change your Gmail password in a few short steps.

Tired of paying a monthly fee for Word? The best Microsoft Office alternatives

Looking for a competent word processor that isn't Microsoft Word? Thankfully, the best alternatives to Microsoft Office offer robust features, expansive compatibility, and an all-too-familiar aesthetic. Here are our favorites.

Google’s updated Santa Tracker entertains and teaches coding throughout December

Google's Santa Tracker is in its fifteenth year and is back again with even more features. You can have fun with more than 20 games, learn about different holiday traditions around the world, and enjoy some festive animations.

Microsoft is ‘handing even more of online life’ to Google, Mozilla CEO says

Not everyone is happy with Microsoft's switch to Google's Chromium engine. In a new blog post, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard writes that he believes the move is "handing online life control" to Google.

Edit, sign, append, and save with six of the best PDF editors

There are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, and though the selection is robust, finding a solid solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here, we've rounded up best PDF editors, so you can edit no matter your budget or OS.

How to easily record your laptop screen with apps you already have

Learning how to record your computer screen shouldn't be a challenge. Lucky for you, our comprehensive guide lays out how to do so using a host of methods, including both free and premium utilities, in both MacOS and Windows 10.

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual monitor wallpapers for you.

Google Translate updated to reduce gender bias in its translations

Google is changing how Google Translate offers translations. Previously when you entered a word like doctor, Translate would offer a masculine interpretation of the word. Now, Translate will offer both masculine and feminine versions.

Can Microsoft’s Airband Initiative close broadband gap for 25M Americans?

A new report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that 25 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet. Of these, more than 19 million are living in rural communities. Can Microsoft help out?

Microsoft’s Chromium Edge browser may be adding your Chrome extensions

Fans sticking to Google Chrome because due to its vast extension library might be able to switch over to Microsoft's latest iteration of Edge, as a project manager confirms that the company has its eyes on Chrome extensions.

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.