Pakistan encryption ban to aid cybercriminals

Following Pakistani government's decision to crack down on use of encryption including VPN technology, Sophos warns such actions would result in a more dangerous Internet.

The Pakistani government has stepped up enforcement of a ban on private communications in the country, reminding Internet service providers (ISPs) to report customers who use encrypted virtual private networks (VPNs). Such a clampdown on Internet encryption is "dangerous" and benefits cybercriminals, security vendor Sophos warned.

According to a report by The Guardian, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has sent a legal notice ordering ISPs to inform authorities if their customers use encrypted VPN technology, Special permission is required for such use, the notice stated.

The government had banned VPN access, fearing terrorists could make use of the technology to communicate privately and such traffic cannot be monitored. Currently, all Internet traffic passes through the Pakistan Internet Exchange, which can be intercepted by intelligence agencies in the country, said The Guardian.

Paul Ducklin, Sophos' head of technology in the Asia-Pacific, called the decision a "dangerous idea" and warned that banning encryption would give rise to a situation "even more serious" than the current. "The problem is that banning every sort of 'communications-concealing' technology online would destroy the very fabric of the Internet's law-abiding use," he argued in a blogpost.

"There would be no SSH (Secure Shell), no SSL (Secure Socket Layer), no TLS (Transport Layer Security), no HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). There would be no Wi-Fi security.

Online commerce would implode." Ducklin added it is essential to protect "assets" online, and removing encryption will only make lives easier for cybercriminals.

"Online, you do have things to hide. And if you and the rest of us don't hide it as a matter of course, the cybercrooks will plunder our economy more seriously than they're doing already," he said.

Tight rein on Web
This is not the first time Pakistan is in the spotlight for its control over the Internet. Last year, it blocked access to Facebook to its 20 million netizens as authorities had deemed as blasphemous a page encouraging users to draw images of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

In its report, The Guardian also noted the Web site of the Rolling Stone magazine was blocked recently after it published an article on Pakistan's military budget.

Pakistan's neighbors India and China are understood to have taken the same stand in blocking encrypted communications, the U.K. publication added.