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More documents from former security contractor Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency has been secretly working to gain a back door into all encryption technologies, The New York Times reports.
Despite losing a ’90s era debate over allowing a government back door into all encryption technologies, the US National Security Agency set up a clandestine program code-named Bullrun and can now circumvent much of the virtual armor intended to protect digital communications — from everyday e-mails to financial and medical records — according to a report from The New York Times.
Industry officials, says that the NSA has sidestepped common Net encryption methods in a number of ways, including hacking into the servers of private companies to steal encryption keys, collaborating with tech companies to build in back doors, and covertly introducing weaknesses into encryption standards.
Encryption methods targeted by the NSA include those most often used by Americans in sending e-mails, using a company computer, or communicating via phone: Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), virtual private networks (VPNs), and security used for 4G smartphones, the Times reports.
The NSA defends its actions on the basis of national security, the Times says, with agency officials claiming that the country would be at serious risk if the messages of foreign spies, terrorists, and others couldn’t be cracked.
And the Times makes a point of saying the news doesn’t change laws related to the Fourth Amendment that, for instance, require search warrants to conduct certain types of surveillance. But that may be cold comfort to those wary of the secret court with which the NSA deals, as well as the security agency’s perceived lack of forthrightness with lawmakers regarding its activities.
The Times says intelligence officials asked the paper and ProPublica not to publish information on the NSA’s decryption efforts because that would tip off foreign targets as to what sorts of communications might be more safe from surveillance. The Times says it “decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful tools for protecting the privacy of Americans and others.” ProPublica has also posted a statement about the decision to publicize the NSA’s efforts.
The Times notes that “by introducing such back doors, the N.S.A. has surreptitiously accomplished what it had failed to do in the open,” and it points to the debate in the ’90s over the “Clipper Chip,” which would have handed the NSA a key to any digital encryption technologies. The Clipper Chip idea was abandoned after a backlash from varied politicos, tech execs, and rights groups.
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Source: Associated Press