NSA Can Read All Your Safely Encrypted Files

Agency has cracked every system out there, sometimes working with Internet providers

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 5, 2013 4:28 PM CDT

(Newser) – If you're under the impression that your online data is safe from prying eyes thanks to encryption, the New York Times, ProPublica, and the Guardian have some bad news, courtesy of Edward Snowden: The NSA can read pretty much everything that's out there. A key point from high up in the Times story:

  • "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."
How? The Guardian highlights this:
  • The "methods include covert measures to ensure NSA control over setting of international encryption standards, the use of supercomputers to break encryption with 'brute force,' and—the most closely guarded secret of all—collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves." (The documents don't name the companies.)

The government argues that this encryption-beating technology is necessary, because what's the point of collecting data from terror suspects if it can't be read? But until now, it hadn't been public knowledge just how successful the NSA has been. (The secret program is called Bullrun.) As such, the feds asked that the stories not be published, but the three publications declined. ProPublica explains its rationale:

  • "The American system, as we understand it, is premised on the idea—championed by such men as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—that government run amok poses the greatest potential threat to the people’s liberty, and that an informed citizenry is the necessary check on this threat. ... Today's story is a step in that direction."
In a companion story, the Guardian offers ways of at least trying to beef up your protection.

  (Shutterstock)
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