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"True Crypt" Encryption Software Stumps MCSO Detectives in Child-Porn Case

"True Crypt" Encryption Software Stumps MCSO Detectives in Child-Porn Case
Image: truecrypt.org

If you want to hide data on your computer, a free open-source program called "True Crypt" apparently is one way to do it.

According to the booking sheet of suspected child-porn suspect James DeSilva, forensics detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office were stumped when they tried to see what was on DeSilva's computer.

But the detectives shouldn't feel too bad -- even the NSA, FBI, and CIA reportedly have been frustrated by widely available encryption software.

In the case of DeSilva, detectives determined in 2011 that he was sharing child-porn images and videos online and traced his computer ID back to his El Mirage home, where a search warrant ultimately was served.

Here's where it gets interesting, from a techie versus law enforcement perspective: "James had his entire computer system encrypted with True Crypt and refused to reveal the password for MCSO forensic technicians to gain access to his stored digital media files," court records state. "James further stated during the interview that he had possession of bomb-making/terrorism-type videos and information, which is why he encrypted the system, out of fear of being caught federally. MCSO...technicians have not been able to crack the encryption and James DeSilva retained an attorney who advised him not to disclose the password to this computer system."

DeSilva's not your average computer user: He works for the IT department of the Arizona Department of Real Estate.

True Crypt works by creating encrypted, hidden data on a hard drive. Experts say that and other encryption software can be super-tough for anyone, including law enforcement analysts, to crack. A 2011 article in the scientific journal "Digital Investigation" suggests more decryption research needs to be done.

Whatever DeSilva has on his computer's hard drive, he's looking at big trouble just for the files he shared online. Sheriff's Office detectives were able to compare 70 files he shared with identifiable code on his computer, records state. They found apparent matches of "hash values" on the computer with shared images and video of kids between ages 4 to 11 engaged in sex acts. (He was arrested Monday at his home following a grand jury indictment on 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.)

The files he's hiding may be as bad -- and may even represent a public security risk -- if DeSilva's to be believed.

For computer users and businesses, encryption may just be a way to prevent theft of such information as credit card numbers. There's a comforting power and freedom behind the idea of creating files that no one else, not even the seemingly all-powerful government, can see. But in terms of which individuals actually need unbreakable encryption, potential perverts, criminals, and terrorists are clear benefactors of the technology.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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