In light of recent revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is spying on U.S. citizens, Facebook has been working to boost its encryption standards over the past few months -- but it is holding back on end-to-end encryption. The reasons: the technology is too complex and users would run into trouble trying to use the feature.
Rather than adding another layer of encryption to the site directly, Facebook said that it will try to support more third-party apps that offer the service.
Experts have continued to push for end-to-end encryption because it is one of the best defenses against government spying and malicious hackers. Facebook has been able to improve its current features with the help of hackers, developers, and other individuals, but its current forms of security are not enough to keep the NSA out of the site.
NSA documents that revealed Facebook’s connection to the NSA and the government’s ability to spy on people who use the social network have already forced Facebook to change its policies and implement stronger security measures. A recent discovery, however, showed just how badly the NSA has wanted to spy on Facebook users.
Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg telephoned President Barack Obama after it was reported earlier this month that the NSA impersonated the social network in order to infect computers. However, Zuckerberg still asserts that many aspects of the U.S. intelligence system need to be changed. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform,” Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.
The NSA program that allowed for this sort of attack to occur has not been “viable” since last summer, according to Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s chief security officer. However, the revelation has added more fuel to the anti-NSA fire and Facebook’s goal of making its site as secure as possible.
End-to-end encryption is one of the best ways to secure a line of communication, but it is relatively difficult to use because it requires public keys to be transferred back and forth in order for the messages to be read. “If you use end-to-end encryption on e-mail, you realize how hard it can be,” Sullivan noted.
For people who do understand how to use the service and would like to make their Facebook Messenger chats more secure, Sullivan said that there are already third-party apps that add this functionality. Although the social network has worked on end-to-end encryption for a long time, it is holding back on the feature, opting to support other initiatives that are not automatically included in the site.
Edward Snowden, the man behind the NSA revelations, has publicly supported encryption during his virtual visits to the TED 2014 and South by Southwest conferences. His support, along with that of many other experts, has caused the public to ask Web site owners to include encryption in order to combat the NSA.