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Telegram founder: Opening ‘back door’ to encrypted apps could aid terrorists

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The founder of an encrypted app favored by ISIS militants says opening a “back door” in to such communications tools could aid terrorists and criminals.

Pavel Durov, 31, is the elusive tech entrepreneur behind Telegram, an application designed to allow users to send messages protected by end-to-end encryption — the kind authorities can’t intercept easily.

And that secrecy means it has developed a reputation as one of the go-to tools for terrorists — an image the black-clad Durov is keen to dispel, pointing out that most of his app’s 100 million users are ordinary people.

“In America they started to refer to Telegram as ‘ISIS’s preferred messaging app,'” he says. “But in reality there are many more legitimate users.”

The issue of encryption is a thorny one — Apple’s recent decision to defy the FBI in refusing to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino killers, saying it would set a dangerous precedent, has sparked controversy.

But Durov insists that the “overly simplistic solutions” suggested by intelligence services, blocking access to apps and allowing governments to break in to secure communications are not the answer.

Private data at risk

“When you look into them you realize they wouldn’t work and they would actually make the situation worse,” he says. “Essentially they want companies providing encrypted messaging services to implement ‘back door’ solutions.”

The problem with that approach, he says, is that you cannot make messaging technology secure for everybody except terrorists. “You cannot make it safe against criminals and open for governments. It’s either secure or not secure,” he said.
“If such a measure is implemented, most of our correspondence, our business secrets, our private data would be put at risk. Because if there’s a back door, not only a government official could use it, but theoretically criminals including terrorists [could too].”

Durov says a number of governments — including that of Britain — have reached out to him for help in the past, but encryption means that even he can’t access his users’ messages.

“For two and a half years of our existence we haven’t disclosed a single bite of data of our users,” he says proudly.

That’s good news for anyone who wants to communicate without being spied on — whoever they may be.

Those behind the Paris attacks used apps including Telegram and WhatsApp. But, investigators say, it’s not known whether those apps were used to hide their plotting. ISIS later used the service to claim responsibility for the massacres.


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