Experts disagree on government encryption

The theft of an MI5 officer's laptop last week, has left one expert wondering whether the government has developed a new form of encryption.

At least one security expert believes the government is looking at a new form of strong encryption, while another says hardware encryption should be used as a rule by government officials.

The Home Office, understandably, refused to discuss the type of encryption used to protect the officer's computer prompting one security pundit to suggest a new cryptographic technique could be in use.

Other government officials have been quoted saying the current encryption technique is "one of the strongest types of encryption the government uses".

Richard Stagg, senior security architect with Information Risk Management, told ZDNet Friday "It seems that it could be a modification or development of an existing type of encryption". He added: "The alternative is that they just don't want people knowing that they're using plain old PGP."

The government has the resources to develop new types of encryption. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) based in Cheltenham is said to carry out extensive research into secure methods of transferring information as well as capturing it.

According to independent encryption expert and ex-ministry of defence employee Brian Gladman, it is unlikely the government is using any new encryption technology. He believes the biggest danger is that the password might have been stored somewhere on the computer providing a backdoor. Gladman also says, "If the theft [of this information] was deliberate, by another country, they will get around it."

Gladman says the British government should have been advised to have also employed some hardware encryption, such as a smart card.

Could the code be broken? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

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