Report: NSA defeats many encryption efforts

The agency has been working since 2000 to circumvent encryption through a variety of methods, a news report says

By , IDG News Service |  Government

The U.S. National Security Agency has been circumventing many online encryption efforts through a combination of supercomputers, back doors built into technology products, court orders and other efforts, according to a new report from The New York Times and ProPublica.

The NSA has cracked much of the encryption that protects global commerce, banking, trade secrets and medical records, according to the report, which cites documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The NSA has invested billions of dollars in efforts to defeat encryption since 2000, according to the report.

In addition to deploying supercomputers to crack encryption, the NSA has worked with U.S. and foreign technology companies to build entry points into their products, the report said. The agency spends more than US$250 million a year on its Sigint Enabling Project, which engages the IT industry in an effort to get companies to make their commercial products "exploitable," the report said, citing documents from Snowden.

The report did not name companies that have cooperated with the NSA.

Representatives of the NSA and the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the news report.

In addition, British intelligence agency GCHQ, likely working with the NSA, has been attempting to hack into the protected traffic at Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft's Hotmail, the report said. GCHQ had developed "new access opportunities" into Google's system, according to a document from Snowden.

The NSA has also been working for years to weaken international encryption standards, the report said. NSA memos appear to confirm that the agency planted vulnerabilities in an encryption standard adopted in 2006 by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, the report said.

The NSA sees the ability to decrypt information a vital capacity, and the U.S. competes with China, Russia and other countries in that area, according to the documents referenced in the report.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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