NSA & GCHQ Covertly Took Over Security Standards, Recruited Telco Employees To Insert Backdoors

from the not-so-secure dept

And the latest report on the Ed Snowden leak documents has come out and it's yet another big one: the NSA and GCHQ have basically gotten backdoors into various key security offerings used online, in part by controlling the standards efforts, and in part by sometimes covertly introducing security vulnerabilities into various products. They haven't "cracked" encryption standards, but rather just found a different way in. The full report is worth reading, but a few key points are worth highlighting.

First, the NSA spends $250 million per year to "covertly" influence tech product designs. The report suggest two ways this is happening. First by infiltrating standards-bodies:
Independent security experts have long suspected that the NSA has been introducing weaknesses into security standards, a fact confirmed for the first time by another secret document. It shows the agency worked covertly to get its own version of a draft security standard issued by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology approved for worldwide use in 2006.

"Eventually, NSA became the sole editor," the document states.
That's disturbing enough, but it gets worse. While the Guardian report suggests that unnamed tech companies are "collaborating" in inserting these kinds of backdoors, that's not entirely clear, because later in the document, they suggest that the NSA is recruiting covert operatives within telco firms to insert vulnerabilities:
To help secure an insider advantage, GCHQ also established a Humint Operations Team (HOT). Humint, short for "human intelligence" refers to information gleaned directly from sources or undercover agents.

This GCHQ team was, according to an internal document, "responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry."

"This enables GCHQ to tackle some of its most challenging targets," the report said. The efforts made by the NSA and GCHQ against encryption technologies may have negative consequences for all internet users, experts warn."
Did you get that? Rather than recruiting spies from, say, governments, the NSA and GCHQ are recruiting employees at telcos to help them suck up and access all your data.

All of this activity has apparently led to some major breakthroughs, allowing them to access plenty of data they didn't have access to previously. Just last week we'd written about major successes by the NSA having to do with encryption, and this report reveals more details:
"For the past decade, NSA has lead [sic] an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used internet encryption technologies," stated a 2010 GCHQ document. "Vast amounts of encrypted internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable."

An internal agency memo noted that among British analysts shown a presentation on the NSA's progress: "Those not already briefed were gobsmacked!" The breakthrough, which was not described in detail in the documents, meant the intelligence agencies were able to monitor "large amounts" of data flowing through the world's fibre-optic cables and break its encryption, despite assurances from internet company executives that this data was beyond the reach of government.
Once again, we're seeing rather extreme behavior on the part of the NSA and GCHQ as they try to basically be able to dig into every possible communication.

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  1. icon
    Internet Zen Master (profile), 5 Sep 2013 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Puts _NSAKEY to shame

    Since all the cool kids are walking around with their iPhones/iPads/and other assorted iShit, I suspect they'd be more focused on breaking Apple's encryption than getting Microsoft to play ball these days.

    It should be noted that Microsoft's already been saying they'd explain themselves (probably in their usual "craptastic PR fiasco" fashion) but they can't because the NSA's got them gagged with the whole "you must cooperate with us because national security, and you can't tell anyone about under penalty of, well, whatever the harshest thing we can think of if you try and speak out" thing.

    Will it negatively affect Microsoft in the short-run? Depends on how much the average American thinks beyond "holy shit the NSA's breaking the Internet!1!" and what happens after that.

    I highly doubt this spells doom for Microsoft though.

    As the Zen Master says, "We'll see."

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