I have lots of questions about this!!!!
1) I have always suspected that the NSA can use it's supercomputers to crack PGP and other public key encrypted messages. But I suspected it took some effort to decrypt the messages. Is that still true??? Or it is now a trivial inexpensive task for NSA to read messages that are encrypted with PGP and other public key??
2) Just what are these "secret portals" or "hooks" that the NSA has created??? I suspect they are hooks that tell the encryption software used by HTTPS encryption to create encrypted data that is easily decrypted by NSA and other government agencies.
3) This shows that it is really not safe to put ANYTHING that you would like to keep secret from anybody, especially the government on the internet. Same goes for putting the data on telephone lines, radio waves or any public communication method.
Files show NSA cracks, weakens Internet encryption
By Michael Winter USA Today Thu Sep 5, 2013 4:51 PM
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have cracked the encryption designed to provide online privacy and security, documents leaked by Edward Snowden show.
In their clandestine, decade-long effort to defeat digital scrambling, the National Security Agency, along with its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have used supercomputers to crack encryption codes and have inserted secret portals into software with the help of technology companies, the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica reported Thursday.
The NSA has also maintained control over international encryption standards.
As the Times points out, encryption "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 NSA calls its decryption efforts the "price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace."
A 2010 memo describing an NSA briefing to British agents about the secret hacking said, "For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies. Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable."
The GCHQ is working to penetrate encrypted traffic on what it called the "big four" service providers ---Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook, the Guardian said.
N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web
In this article it says that the NSA is getting chip makers
to put back doors on their ICs or integrated circuits to let the NSA grab the data BEFORE the integrated circuit encrypts the data!!!
"the Sigint Enabling Project had found ways inside some of the encryption chips that scramble information for businesses and governments, either by working with chipmakers to insert back doors"
"At Microsoft ... the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive"
"Some companies have been asked to hand the government the encryption keys to all customer communications"
N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web
By NICOLE PERLROTH, JEFF LARSON and SCOTT SHANE
Published: September 5, 2013 1407 Comments
The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.
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. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.
The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.
The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. 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.
“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. 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.”
When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, “those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”
An intelligence budget document makes clear that the effort is still going strong. “We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic,” the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., wrote in his budget request for the current year.
In recent months, the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden have described the N.S.A.’s reach in scooping up vast amounts of communications around the world. The encryption documents now show, in striking detail, how the agency works to ensure that it is actually able to read the information it collects.
The agency’s success in defeating many of the privacy protections offered by encryption does not change the rules that prohibit the deliberate targeting of Americans’ e-mails or phone calls without a warrant. But it shows that the agency, which was sharply rebuked by a federal judge in 2011 for violating the rules and misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot necessarily be restrained by privacy technology. N.S.A. rules permit the agency to store any encrypted communication, domestic or foreign, for as long as the agency is trying to decrypt it or analyze its technical features.
The N.S.A., which has specialized in code-breaking since its creation in 1952, sees that task as essential to its mission. If it cannot decipher the messages of terrorists, foreign spies and other adversaries, the United States will be at serious risk, agency officials say.
Just in recent weeks, the Obama administration has called on the intelligence agencies for details of communications by leaders of Al Qaeda about a terrorist plot and of Syrian officials’ messages about the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. If such communications can be hidden by unbreakable encryption, N.S.A. officials say, the agency cannot do its work.
But some experts say the N.S.A.’s campaign to bypass and weaken communications security may have serious unintended consequences. They say the agency is working at cross-purposes with its other major mission, apart from eavesdropping: ensuring the security of American communications.
Some of the agency’s most intensive efforts have focused on the encryption in universal use in the United States, including Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL; virtual private networks, or VPNs; and the protection used on fourth-generation, or 4G, smartphones. Many Americans, often without realizing it, rely on such protection every time they send an e-mail, buy something online, consult with colleagues via their company’s computer network, or use a phone or a tablet on a 4G network.
For at least three years, one document says, GCHQ, almost certainly in collaboration with the N.S.A., has been looking for ways into protected traffic of popular Internet companies: Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft’s Hotmail. By 2012, GCHQ had developed “new access opportunities” into Google’s systems, according to the document. (Google denied giving any government access and said it had no evidence its systems had been breached).
“The risk is that when you build a back door into systems, you’re not the only one to exploit it,” said Matthew D. Green, a cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Those back doors could work against U.S. communications, too.”
Paul Kocher, a leading cryptographer who helped design the SSL protocol, recalled how the N.S.A. lost the heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip.
“And they went and did it anyway, without telling anyone,” Mr. Kocher said. He said he understood the agency’s mission but was concerned about the danger of allowing it unbridled access to private information.
“The intelligence community has worried about ‘going dark’ forever, but today they are conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort,” he said. “This is the golden age of spying.”
A Vital Capability
The documents are among more than 50,000 shared by The Guardian with The New York Times and ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization. They focus on GCHQ but include thousands from or about the N.S.A.
Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read. The news organizations 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.
The files show that the agency is still stymied by some encryption, as Mr. Snowden suggested in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian’s Web site in June.
“Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” he said, though cautioning that the N.S.A. often bypasses the encryption altogether by targeting the computers at one end or the other and grabbing text before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted.
The documents make clear that the N.S.A. considers its ability to decrypt information a vital capability, one in which it competes with China, Russia and other intelligence powers.
“In the future, superpowers will be made or broken based on the strength of their cryptanalytic programs,” a 2007 document said. “It is the price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace.”
The full extent of the N.S.A.’s decoding capabilities is known only to a limited group of top analysts from the so-called Five Eyes: the N.S.A. and its counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only they are cleared for the Bullrun program, the successor to one called Manassas — both names of an American Civil War battle. A parallel GCHQ counterencryption program is called Edgehill, named for the first battle of the English Civil War of the 17th century.
Unlike some classified information that can be parceled out on a strict “need to know” basis, one document makes clear that with Bullrun, “there will be NO ‘need to know.’ ”
Only a small cadre of trusted contractors were allowed to join Bullrun. It does not appear that Mr. Snowden was among them, but he nonetheless managed to obtain dozens of classified documents referring to the program’s capabilities, methods and sources.
Ties to Internet Companies
When the N.S.A. was founded, encryption was an obscure technology used mainly by diplomats and military officers. Over the last 20 years, it has become ubiquitous. Even novices can tell that their exchanges are being automatically encrypted when a tiny padlock appears next to a Web address.
Because strong encryption can be so effective, classified N.S.A. documents make clear, the agency’s success depends on working with Internet companies — by getting their voluntary collaboration, forcing their cooperation with court orders or surreptitiously stealing their encryption keys or altering their software or hardware.
According to an intelligence budget document leaked by Mr. Snowden, the N.S.A. spends more than $250 million a year on its Sigint Enabling Project, which “actively engages the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs” to make them “exploitable.” Sigint is the acronym for signals intelligence, the technical term for electronic eavesdropping.
By this year, the Sigint Enabling Project had found ways inside some of the encryption chips that scramble information for businesses and governments, either by working with chipmakers to insert back doors or by exploiting security flaws, according to the documents. The agency also expected to gain full unencrypted access to an unnamed major Internet phone call and text service; to a Middle Eastern Internet service; and to the communications of three foreign governments.
In one case, after the government learned that a foreign intelligence target had ordered new computer hardware, the American manufacturer agreed to insert a back door into the product before it was shipped, someone familiar with the request told The Times.
The 2013 N.S.A. budget request highlights “partnerships with major telecommunications carriers to shape the global network to benefit other collection accesses” — that is, to allow more eavesdropping.
At Microsoft, as The Guardian has reported, the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft’s most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive, the company’s cloud storage service.
Microsoft asserted that it had merely complied with “lawful demands” of the government, and in some cases, the collaboration was clearly coerced. Some companies have been asked to hand the government the encryption keys to all customer communications, according to people familiar with the government’s requests.
N.S.A. documents show that the agency maintains an internal database of encryption keys for specific commercial products, called a Key Provisioning Service, which can automatically decode many messages. If the necessary key is not in the collection, a request goes to the separate Key Recovery Service, which tries to obtain it.
How keys are acquired is shrouded in secrecy, but independent cryptographers say many are probably collected by hacking into companies’ computer servers, where they are stored. To keep such methods secret, the N.S.A. shares decrypted messages with other agencies only if the keys could have been acquired through legal means. “Approval to release to non-Sigint agencies,” a GCHQ document says, “will depend on there being a proven non-Sigint method of acquiring keys.”
Simultaneously, the N.S.A. has been deliberately weakening the international encryption standards adopted by developers.
One goal in the agency’s 2013 budget request was to “influence policies, standards and specifications for commercial public key technologies,” the most common encryption method.
Cryptographers have long suspected that the agency planted vulnerabilities in a standard adopted in 2006 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and later by the International Organization for Standardization, which has 163 countries as members.
Classified N.S.A. memos appear to confirm that the fatal weakness, discovered by two Microsoft cryptographers in 2007, was engineered by the agency. The N.S.A. wrote the standard and aggressively pushed it on the international group, privately calling the effort “a challenge in finesse.”
“Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor,” the memo says.
Even agency programs ostensibly intended to guard American communications are sometimes used to weaken protections. The N.S.A.’s Commercial Solutions Center, for instance, invites the makers of encryption technologies to present their products to the agency with the goal of improving American cybersecurity. But a top-secret N.S.A. document suggests that the agency’s hacking division uses that same program to develop and “leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners” to insert vulnerabilities into Internet security products.
By introducing such back doors, the N.S.A. has surreptitiously accomplished what it had failed to do in the open. Two decades ago, officials grew concerned about the spread of strong encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy, designed by a programmer named Phil Zimmermann. The Clinton administration fought back by proposing the Clipper Chip, which would have effectively neutered digital encryption by ensuring that the N.S.A. always had the key.
That proposal met a backlash from an unlikely coalition that included political opposites like Senator John Ashcroft, the Missouri Republican, and Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, as well as the televangelist Pat Robertson, Silicon Valley executives and the American Civil Liberties Union. All argued that the Clipper would kill not only the Fourth Amendment, but also America’s global technology edge.
By 1996, the White House backed down. But soon the N.S.A. began trying to anticipate and thwart encryption tools before they became mainstream.
Each novel encryption effort generated anxiety. When Mr. Zimmermann introduced the Zfone, an encrypted phone technology, N.S.A. analysts circulated the announcement in an e-mail titled “This can’t be good.”
But by 2006, an N.S.A. document notes, the agency had broken into communications for three foreign airlines, one travel reservation system, one foreign government’s nuclear department and another’s Internet service by cracking the virtual private networks that protected them.
By 2010, the Edgehill program, the British counterencryption effort, was unscrambling VPN traffic for 30 targets and had set a goal of an additional 300.
But the agencies’ goal was to move away from decrypting targets’ tools one by one and instead decode, in real time, all of the information flying over the world’s fiber optic cables and through its Internet hubs, only afterward searching the decrypted material for valuable intelligence.
A 2010 document calls for “a new approach for opportunistic decryption, rather than targeted.” By that year, a Bullrun briefing document claims that the agency had developed “groundbreaking capabilities” against encrypted Web chats and phone calls. Its successes against Secure Sockets Layer and virtual private networks were gaining momentum.
But the agency was concerned that it could lose the advantage it had worked so long to gain, if the mere “fact of” decryption became widely known. “These capabilities are among the Sigint community’s most fragile, and the inadvertent disclosure of the simple ‘fact of’ could alert the adversary and result in immediate loss of the capability,” a GCHQ document warned.
Since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures ignited criticism of overreach and privacy infringements by the N.S.A., American technology companies have faced scrutiny from customers and the public over what some see as too cozy a relationship with the government. In response, some companies have begun to push back against what they describe as government bullying.
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook have pressed for permission to reveal more about the government’s requests for cooperation. One e-mail encryption company, Lavabit, closed rather than comply with the agency’s demands for customer information; another, Silent Circle, ended its e-mail service rather than face such demands.
In effect, facing the N.S.A.’s relentless advance, the companies surrendered.
Ladar Levison, the founder of Lavabit, wrote a public letter to his disappointed customers, offering an ominous warning. “Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent,” he wrote, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
John Markoff contributed reporting.
NSA can access most smartphone data
Report: NSA can access most smartphone data
By FRANK JORDANS, Associated Press
Updated 12:53 pm, Sunday, September 8, 2013
BERLIN (AP) — The U.S. National Security Agency is able to crack protective measures on iPhones, BlackBerry and Android devices, giving it access to users' data on all major smartphones, according to a report Sunday in German news weekly Der Spiegel.
The magazine cited internal documents from the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ in which the agencies describe setting up dedicated teams for each type of phone as part of their effort to gather intelligence on potential threats such as terrorists.
The data obtained this way includes contacts, call lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information, Der Spiegel reported. The documents don't indicate that the NSA is conducting mass surveillance of phone users but rather that these techniques are used to eavesdrop on specific individuals, the magazine said.
The article doesn't explain how the magazine obtained the documents, which are described as "secret." But one of its authors is Laura Poitras, an American filmmaker with close contacts to NSA leaker Edward Snowden who has published several articles about the NSA in Der Spiegel in recent weeks.
The documents outline how, starting in May 2009, intelligence agents were unable to access some information on BlackBerry phones for about a year after the Canadian manufacturer began using a new method to compress the data. After GCHQ cracked that problem, too, analysts celebrated their achievement with the word "Champagne," Der Spiegel reported.
The magazine printed several slides alleged to have come from an NSA presentation referencing the film "1984," based on George Orwell's book set in a totalitarian surveillance state. The slides — which show stills from the film, former Apple Inc. chairman Steve Jobs holding an iPhone, and iPhone buyers celebrating their purchase — are captioned: "Who knew in 1984...that this would be big brother...and the zombies would be paying customers?"
Snowden's revelations have sparked a heated debate in Germany about the country's cooperation with the United States in intelligence matters.
On Saturday, thousands of people in Berlin protested the NSA's alleged mass surveillance of Internet users. Many held placards with slogans such as "Stop watching us."
Separately, an incident in which a German police helicopter was used to photograph the roof of the American consulate in Frankfurt has caused a minor diplomatic incident between the two countries.
German magazine Focus reported Sunday that U.S. Ambassador John B. Emerson complained about the overflight, which German media reported was ordered by top officials after reports that the consulate housed a secret espionage site.
A U.S. embassy spokesman downplayed the story, saying "the helicopter incident was, naturally enough, the subject of embassy conversation with the Foreign Ministry, but no demarche or letter of complaint about the incident was sent to the German government."
Frank Jordans can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter
Obama administration had restrictions on NSA reversed in 2011
Obama administration had restrictions on NSA reversed in 2011
By Ellen Nakashima, Published: September 7 E-mail the writer
The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases, according to interviews with government officials and recently declassified material.
In addition, the court extended the length of time that the NSA is allowed to retain intercepted U.S. communications from five years to six years — and more under special circumstances, according to the documents, which include a recently released 2011 opinion by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
What had not been previously acknowledged is that the court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.
Together the permission to search and to keep data longer expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress. The administration’s assurances rely on legalistic definitions of the term “target” that can be at odds with ordinary English usage. The enlarged authority is part of a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to surveillance: collecting first, and protecting Americans’ privacy later.
“The government says, ‘We’re not targeting U.S. persons,’ ” said Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “But then they never say, ‘We turn around and deliberately search for Americans’ records in what we took from the wire.’ That, to me, is not so different from targeting Americans at the outset.”
The court decision allowed the NSA “to query the vast majority” of its e-mail and phone call databases using the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of Americans and legal residents without a warrant, according to Bates’s opinion.
The queries must be “reasonably likely to yield foreign intelligence information.” And the results are subject to the NSA’s privacy rules.
The court in 2008 imposed a wholesale ban on such searches at the government’s request, said Alex Joel, civil liberties protection officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The government included this restriction “to remain consistent with NSA policies and procedures that NSA applied to other authorized collection activities,” he said.
But in 2011, to more rapidly and effectively identify relevant foreign intelligence communications, “we did ask the court” to lift the ban, ODNI general counsel Robert S. Litt said in an interview. “We wanted to be able to do it,” he said, referring to the searching of Americans’ communications without a warrant.
Joel gave hypothetical examples of why the authority was needed, such as when the NSA learns of a rapidly developing terrorist plot and suspects that a U.S. person may be a conspirator. Searching for communications to, from or about that person can help assess that person’s involvement and whether he is in touch with terrorists who are surveillance targets, he said. Officials would not say how many searches have been conducted.
The court’s expansion of authority went largely unnoticed when the opinion was released, but it formed the basis for cryptic warnings last year by a pair of Democratic senators, Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), that the administration had a “back-door search loophole” that enabled the NSA to scour intercepted communications for those of Americans. They introduced legislation to require a warrant, but they were barred by classification rules from disclosing the court’s authorization or whether the NSA was already conducting such searches.
“The [surveillance] Court documents declassified recently show that in late 2011 the court authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless searches of individual Americans’ communications using an authority intended to target only foreigners,” Wyden said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Our intelligence agencies need the authority to target the communications of foreigners, but for government agencies to deliberately read the e-mails or listen to the phone calls of individual Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant.”
Senior administration officials disagree. “If we’re validly targeting foreigners and we happen to collect communications of Americans, we don’t have to close our eyes to that,” Litt said. “I’m not aware of other situations where once we have lawfully collected information, we have to go back and get a warrant to look at the information we’ve already collected.”
The searches take place under a surveillance program Congress authorized in 2008 under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the target must be a foreigner “reasonably believed” to be outside the United States, and the court must approve the targeting procedures in an order good for one year.
But — and this was the nub of the criticism — a warrant for each target would no longer be required. That means that communications with Americans could be picked up without a court first determining that there is probable cause that the people they were talking to were terrorists, spies or “foreign powers.”
That is why it is important to require a warrant before searching for Americans’ data, Udall said. “Our founders laid out a roadmap where Americans’ privacy rights are protected before their communications are seized or searched — not after the fact,” he said in a statement to The Post.
Another change approved by Bates allows the agency to keep the e-mails of or concerning Americans for up to six years, with an extension possible for foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purposes. Because the retention period begins “from the expiration date” of the one-year surveillance period, the court effectively added up to one year of shelf life for the e-mails collected at the beginning of the period.
Joel said that the change was intended to standardize retention periods across the agencies and that the more generous standard was “already in use” by another agency.
The NSA intercepts more than 250 million Internet communications each year under Section 702. Ninety-one percent are from U.S. Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo. The rest come from “upstream” companies that route Internet traffic to, from and within the United States. The expanded search authority applies only to the downstream collection.
Barton Gellman contributed to this report.