Nerd News: NSA edition


Nerd news and politics meet.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way.

Alright, at first I was going to dismiss this story. The N.S.A. after all is a spy agency. I would assume that code breaking still falls under its purview and mission statement. They should be trying to break encryption codes. It’s their job.

Anyone who doesn’t think that the government can read your emails, get your internet searches, and access your online accounts is hopelessly naïve. The important thing is that they’re not doing it illegally, that is, that they have to have a warrant (or unfortunately, a national security letter, thanks for the Patriot Act again, Congress.)

Note to my ongoing NSA analyst readers, I’d like to say that I’m certain no one there ever does anything that might be illegal. I have complete confidence in you all because I am a law abiding patriotic American who loves this great country. I own several flags. And a bald eagle.

But this part does worry me:

In some cases, companies say they were coerced by the government into handing over their master encryption keys or building in a back door.

It’s that last little part that makes me pay attention a bit more. They intentionally pressured companies to weaken their security measures and leave a way that someone could bypass it completely.  Okay, I don’t know the potential harm that could cause, but it seems likely that these backdoors or trapdoors could be discovered by third parties and exploited.

Keep an eye on this folks. It could get bad depending on what these backdoors entail and how difficult they are to crack.  It’s probably not as simple as typing Joshua into a DoD computer that controls nuclear weapons, but it’s pretty hard not to worry about it and agree with this sentiment:

As the ACLU’s Chris Soghoian put it today in a statement, “The encryption technologies that the NSA has exploited to enable its secret dragnet surveillance are the same technologies that protect our most sensitive information, including medical records, financial transactions, and commercial secrets. Even as the NSA demands more powers to invade our privacy in the name of cybersecurity, it is making the Internet less secure and exposing us to criminal hacking, foreign espionage, and unlawful surveillance. The NSA’s efforts to secretly defeat encryption are recklessly shortsighted and will further erode not only the United States’ reputation as a global champion of civil liberties and privacy but the economic competitiveness of its largest companies.”

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