NYT, Guardian: NSA has backdoors in commercial encryption software

Thinking of using encryption software to foil the NSA's eavesdropping programs? Well, according to the latest leak from whistleblower Edward Snowden, that may be a waste of time. As the Guardian reports, the leak shows both the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, have "successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails."

The Guardian article goes into a lot of highly depressing detail, but it also provides a handy Cliff's Notes version of today's revelations. Among them:

  • A 10-year NSA program against encryption technologies made a breakthrough in 2010 which made "vast amounts" of data collected through internet cable taps newly "exploitable".
  • The NSA spends $250m a year on a program which, among other goals, works with technology companies to "covertly influence" their product designs.
  • The secrecy of their capabilities against encryption is closely guarded, with analysts warned: "Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods."
  • The NSA describes strong decryption programs as the "price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace".
  • A GCHQ team has been working to develop ways into encrypted traffic on the "big four" service providers, named as Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

Elaborating on the second point, the Guardian says the NSA "makes modifications to commercial encryption software and devices 'to make them exploitable', and . . . 'obtains cryptographic details of commercial cryptographic information security systems through industry relationships'." The vulnerabilities resulting from those modifications "would be known to the NSA, but to no one else, including ordinary customers," the paper adds.

It's not clear which encryption systems are affected. However, it seems to follow that, if backdoors exist in commercial encryption software, they may be exploitable by parties other than government intelligence agencies. And that may bad news even for folks who feel they have nothing to hide from the NSA.

You'll find further details at the New York Times and ProPublica, which also had access to the leaked information. Bring your own Prozac.

Well, I guess it's no wonder Blanda was laughing so hard.

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