- The NSA has been working to deliberately weaken commercial crypto standards and insert back doors that only they have privileged access to. This is horrific public policy for at least a couple of reasons. First, the NSA tried to do this publicly in the mid-90s with the Clipper chip and export restrictions on crypto technology, and they lost. Now they're covertly doing what Congress refused to let them do overtly. Second, deliberately weakening commercial crypto exposes everyone who uses it to possible interception from bad actors who manage to discover the NSA's handiwork. There's no way the NSA can guarantee that other groups won't learn the weaknesses it's introduced (indeed, it's already happened in some cases) or somehow get access to its back doors. I have no problem at all with the Times and the Guardian disclosing this, and I'd very much like Congress to put a stop to it.
- In addition, the NSA has been working to to improve its decryption capabilities in ways that don't degrade commercial crypto for anyone else. The details are unclear. It might involve new mathematical techniques. It might involve new computational techniques or improved computational power. It might involve old school hacking. It might involve stealing encryption keys or getting companies to give them up. It might involve the discovery of weaknesses that already exist. This is all stuff that NSA is chartered to do, and it does nothing to harm general use of commercial cryptography. However, revealing the extent of NSA's success in this area might indeed warn terrorists and others away from commercial crypto that they thought was safe, and thus degrade NSA's ability to track them. I have a hard time believing that the public interest in this outweighs the damage done to U.S. intelligence efforts.
The document also shows that the NSA's Commercial Solutions Center, ostensibly the body through which technology companies can have their security products assessed and presented to prospective government buyers, has another, more clandestine role.
It is used by the NSA to "to leverage sensitive, co-operative relationships with specific industry partners" to insert vulnerabilities into security products. Operatives were warned that this information must be kept top secret "at a minimum".A more general NSA classification guide reveals more detail on the agency's deep partnerships with industry, and its ability to modify products. It cautions analysts that two facts must remain top secret: that NSA makes modifications to commercial encryption software and devices "to make them exploitable", and that NSA "obtains cryptographic details of commercial cryptographic information security systems through industry relationships".
A 2009 GCHQ document spells out the significant potential consequences of any leaks, including "damage to industry relationships".
"Loss of confidence in our ability to adhere to confidentiality agreements would lead to loss of access to proprietary information that can save time when developing new capability," intelligence workers were told.
Google is racing to encrypt the torrents of information that flow among its data centers around the world in a bid to thwart snooping by the NSA and the intelligence agencies of foreign governments, company officials said Friday.
If this is the case, the e-mail hack is more of an embarrassment for Google than anything else: an indication that Google had not only created the application to enable governments to spy on e-mail accounts, it had done such a poor job of protecting it that it could be hijacked by malicious parties.
Documents show that [UK GCHQ’s] Edgehill's initial aim was to decode the encrypted traffic certified by three major (unnamed) internet companies and 30 types of Virtual Private Network (VPN) – used by businesses to provide secure remote access to their systems. By 2015, GCHQ hoped to have cracked the codes used by 15 major internet companies, and 300 VPNs.