WASHINGTON (AFP) – U.S. and British intelligence agencies have cracked the encryption that secures a wide range of online communications including emails, banking transactions and phone conversations, according to newly leaked documents.
The documents provided by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian suggest that the spy agencies are able to decipher data even with the supposedly secure encryption to make it private.
The U.S. National Security Agency, working with its British counterpart, GCHQ, accomplished the feat by using supercomputers, court orders, and some cooperation from technology companies, the documents indicate.
If the reports are accurate, the highly secretive program would defeat much of the protection that is used to keep data secure and private on the Internet, from emails to chats to communications using smartphones.
The Guardian report said the two spy agencies had “covert partnerships” with technology companies and Internet providers which allows the insertion of “secret vulnerabilities — known as backdoors or trapdoors — into commercial encryption software.”
“It’s pretty shocking,” said Joseph Hall of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital rights organization.
Hall told AFP that if the reports are true, “it means that the elements that keep information secure in transit are fundamentally undermined.”
Bruce Schneier, a cryptographic specialist who follows national security issues, called the revelations “explosive.”
“Basically, the NSA is able to decrypt most of the Internet. They’re doing it primarily by cheating, not by mathematics,” Schneier wrote on his blog.
Schneier, who has been working with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, also wrote in a commentary on the British newspaper’s website: “This is not the Internet the world needs, or the Internet its creators envisioned. We need to take it back.”