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How NSA blew up your online privacy

September 06, 2013 09:24 IST

How NSA blew up your online privacy

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The National Security Agency of the United States has cracked the encryption designed to provide online privacy using supercomputers, multiple media outlets in the US and Britain have reported.

The classified documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden show the NSA has cracked much of the encryption that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, Internet chats and phone calls, the media outlets said.

Similar news articles by The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica reported that these classified documents reveal that unlike commonly presumed in the public, none of the data on internet is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the NSA wants to keep it that way.

"The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets," The New York Times said.

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Photographs: Reuters

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How NSA blew up your online privacy

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The NSA deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the US and abroad to build entry points into their products, but the documents do not identify which of the IT companies participated in it.

The agency hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted, the report said. In some cases, companies say they were coerced by the government into handing over their master encryption keys or building in a back door.

"And the agency used its influence as the world's most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world," the report said. 

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Photographs: Reuters
Tags: NSA , US

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"For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies," said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about NSA accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

"Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable," it added.

NSA on its part argues that the agency sees that task as essential to its mission. If it cannot decipher the messages of terrorists, foreign spies and other adversaries, the US will be at serious risk, the news reports quoted agency officials as saying.

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Photographs: Reuters

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The media outlets said they were asked by the intelligence officials not to publish the articles arguing that this might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read.

The news organisations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful privacy tools, media outlets reported. 

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Photographs: Reuters
Tags: NSA , Click

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