Internet privacy safeguards known as encryption technologies promised by email, online banking, and other such online databases have been virtually ‘defeated’ by the U.S. National Security Agency, according to new documents obtained by the Guardian, New York Times, and ProPublica.
According to the Guardian—which has reported extensively on the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—the NSA and its British counterparts the GCHQ have used “covert measures” to control and manipulate international encryption standards to the benefit of the NSA, largely through building “industry relationships” with many technology companies and internet service providers.
As joint reporting by ProPublica and the New York Times explains, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, the NSA has deployed “custom-built, superfast computers to break codes” and began collaborating with “technology companies in the United States and abroad” to build ‘backdoor’ entry points into their products and introduce weaknesses into their encryption standards.
The records do not identify which specific companies have been working with the NSA to this extent. However, one document does reveal that 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.
“By deliberately undermining online security in a short-sighted effort to eavesdrop, the NSA is undermining the very fabric of the internet.”
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Through these relationships the NSA has become nearly immune to most encryption technologies, and has thus mastered the use of “supercomputers” to break encryption with “brute force,” leaving a dying number of encryption technologies immune to NSA surveillance.
As one of the NSA documents obtained by the news agencies states, the NSA “actively engages US and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs,” and in turn inserts “vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems.”
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