THE UNITED STATES National Security Agency (NSA) is adept at cracking most encrypted communications, according to leaked documents, holds commercial encryption keys for ease of access and has backdoors into many systems and software products.
The NSA collaborates with the British GCHQ on defeating routine cryptography processes and has got itself into a position where it punches through them like they were wet paper bags.
A leak from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden released by the Guardian Newspaper and shared with the New York Times (paywalled) and nonprofit news organisation Propublica makes chilling reading for anyone who cares about their privacy, and reveals that the NSA has access to backdoors in just about any software systems you might imagine. Companies named include Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook, while the NSA is described as being in control of security standards.
"These frightening revelations imply that the NSA has not only pursued an aggressive [programme] of obtaining private encryption keys for commercial products - allowing the organization to decrypt vast amounts of Internet traffic that use these products - but that the agency has also attempted to put backdoors into cryptographic standards designed to secure users' communications," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in response.
"Additionally, the leaked documents make clear that companies have been complicit in allowing this unprecedented spying to take place, though the identities of cooperating companies remain unknown."
The programme is called Bullrun and is managed by a group called the Five Eyes. This is made up of representatives from the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Propublica says that at least one of the documents is marked as being rather secure. "There will be NO 'need to know.'" it says.
The leaked papers date back to at least 2007 and show how set the US government is on having a petri dish view of global communications.
"In the future, superpowers will be made or broken based on the strength of their cryptanalytic programs," says one document. "It is the price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace."
The New York Times says that it was asked not to publish the leaked materials, but did so anyway. It also reported that at one time the US government insisted that a hardware company install a backdoor into its kit before it was sent overseas. This request was met, it said. µ
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