Conversation about online privacy and security has reached new highs over the last year. And, while strong encryption may be villainized in some cabinet meetings and campaign speeches, it’s important to know that without strong encryption, both our online and offline lives could be exposed to harm from bad actors. Encryption is a critical component to each of us living freely online.
With this in mind, we’re nominating five superheroes to look out for our online freedoms — each of whom demonstrates how encryption powers are used for good.
Barbara Gordon, also known as Batgirl or “Oracle,” commonly aids Batman with her computer expertise. She sets up encrypted lines of communication that allow her to share private information with the Dark Knight. This intelligence helps Batman win fights against evil in the field. When using these secure lines, Barbara Gordon often refers to herself as “O.”
Believe it or not, we’re not so different from Barbara Gordon when we share our information online. If you logged into your bank account, email or social network today, chances are your username and password were encrypted, protecting you from third party spies. And maybe from the Joker.
Captain Midnight heads up the Secret Squadron. This awesome squad takes on the task of fighting crime, sabotage and espionage. They use Code-O-Graphs — encrypted communications devices — to collaborate with one another as they develop plans to fight crime in the name of freedom.
(Fun fact: Code-O-Graph Secret Decoder Rings were sold commercially in the mid-20th century intended for Captain Midnight fans, including Ralphie in A Christmas Story.)
Everyday folks like us don’t use decoder rings to communicate with each other today. But we do use email. Some of us even set up encryption (available through most email service providers) so that only the people we want to see our emails can actually read them. For example, email encryption is widely used among journalists to protect the privacy of their sources. You can, too. After all, nobody but your own secret squadron really needs to know how you felt about your Tinder date last night.
Bruce Wayne has karate skills, an indomitable will and an unmatched sense of justice. He’s also the genius who created the enviable center for all intelligence: the Batcave.
All systems in the Batcave are encrypted against unauthorized access. In fact, any attempt to breach the security of the Batcave triggers alerts sent to Batman himself (and also Oracle, mentioned earlier in this post).
Though most of us don’t see them, encrypted “spaces” like the Batcave exist in our world, too. Technology companies have servers that can encrypt stored information. If you use any sort of browser, your information is probably touching multiple servers every day.
Computer systems have warning bells too, like the Batcave. But by the time you find out that someone has breached your system’s security, they’re already inside. Strong encryption drastically reduces the probability of a successful information retrieval. This level of encryption ensures that if a system breach does occur, your information has little chance of being accessed by the thieves.
Rick Jones and the Avengers
Rick Jones and the rest of the Teen Brigade transmit real-time, private encrypted messages to alert each other when villains cast darkness or people need help. Teen Brigade members are regular allies and informants for the Avengers.
Encrypted public-service communications that move from one source to several destinations are also common in the real world. For example, a global encrypted Internet communications network called I-24/7 allows Interpol agents and member countries to securely distribute information to other law enforcement bodies.
Whether Interpol also uses I-24/7 to contact Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man and the Wasp remains classified.
Though Spider-Man often operates outside of the law, he uses his powers for good — and NYPD Captain George Stacy knows it. Comics have hinted that George Stacy knows Spider-Man’s true identity and even helps Peter Parker step away from school activities so that he can fight crime. What makes this possible is their encrypted dialogue — language that only Spider-Man and George Stacy can understand.
While encrypted dialogue is not always technological, it does get to the core of what encryption is and why it is important.
Encryption, simply put, is the assurance that only parties meant to receive information and derive meaning out of it, do.
Mozilla believes in the power of encryption. And in the power of superheroes. However, in the digital world, the good guys and the bad guys aren’t as easy to spot. That’s why we spend a lot of our time developing both the technology and the policy for a safer online life. Kind of like a superhero, who’s part software engineer and part legal scholar. And all heart.
Let us know what you think. Which superhero is most suited for the job of protecting encryption?
If you’d like to learn how encryption works and why it’s key to protecting the internet, we’re here to help.