Encryption backdoors in services like Whatsapp could heighten the risk of cyber-attacks, warns the Adam Smith Institute

 
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22 people were killed in a terror attack in Manchester on Monday evening (Source: Getty)

Plans to demand encryption "backdoors" in messaging services like Whatsapp and Telegram in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing risk new cyber attacks like the WannaCry hack, a think tank has warned.

Home secretary Amber Rudd has previously said that end-to-end encryption messaging services like WhatsApp are "completely unnacceptable", and earlier today The Sun reported that ministers may launch a fresh crackdown in the aftermath of the Manchester attack.

However, the Adam Smith Institute has warned that creating government access to secure systems facilitated the WannaCry hack, and that any bid to allow security services access may make the UK less secure.

Read more: Businesses braced for cyber attacks to spread

"The encryption backdoor that intelligence services are proposing is exactly what led to the NHS WannaCry attack two weeks ago, and would put everyone who uses WhatsApp at risk," ASI research economist Sam Dumitriu said.

"Hackers already dedicate substantial effort to seeking out and exploiting every vulnerability out there. Just two weeks ago we saw the harm and chaos they can cause when they shut down IT systems at 40 NHS trusts. The WannaCry exploit they used was based off a leaked NSA vulnerability in Windows.

"If WhatsApp, Facebook, and Google were forced to create vulnerabilities in their encryption, it'd risk giving cyber criminals a blank cheque to cause chaos and extort billions – and do nothing to stop terrorism."

Read more: Here's what Tim Berners-Lee had to say about encryption after Rudd comments

Businesses in over 150 countries were hit by the WannaCry attack, which affected more than 230,000 computers with ransomware and demanded bitcoin payments. The National Health Service was the primary focus of the attack in the UK, but O2 owner Telefonica, Nissan and Renault were also hit.

Rudd launched her original attack on encrypted messaging in the aftermath of the Westminster attack, which killed five including a police officer.

The home secretary subsequently invited the tech giants for talks in Whitehall, with Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft all pledging to do more on the separate issue of taking down extremist content posted online.

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