The NSA Paid to Steal Your Private Data
As the people of this country, and much of the world, observe the year-end holidays, we can look back on 2013 as the year when any illusion of genuine democracy was dashed by the remarkable revelations about the police-state surveillance that watches us. Last week, we saw a deeply disturbing stroke added to that incrementally developing picture.
In the ever-expanding and groan-provoking saga of the NSA's attack on our privacy, it was revealed that the agency paid a major Internet security firm to insert a flawed encryption formula into the company's software. The news, sparked by leaks from Edward Snowden and first reported by Reuters, raises serious questions about the security of popular encryption programs and indicates that the U.S. government was consciously involved in massive and very destructive fraud.
The revelations indicate that the NSA paid $10 million to RSA, one of the most prominent encrytion software companies in the world, to include the NSA's own encryption formula in a very popular and heavily used encryption product called "Bsafe". While Bsafe offers several encryption options, the default option (the one you use if you don't specifically choose any) is the NSA's own code.
The massive attack on encryption by the NSA has been reported before but this recent revelations about payments made demonstrate an intentionality to defraud and a complete disregard for the law, honesty and people's rights. RSA offered a partial and fairly weak statement of defense. The NSA has yet to comment.
"Encryption" is a computerized function, ubiquitous on the Internet, that scrambles data so it can't be read unless the reader has a "key", a small piece of computer code that the encryption program uses to "decrypt" the data and render it readable. Some of us use it to encrypt email, do Internet chat or voice-over-IP communications (an Internet telephone protocol). Most of us have probably used it to send data like credit card numbers when we purchase something. It's the thing that makes private communications on the Internet private.
Nothing revealed indicates that encryption itself doesn't work. In fact, the NSA's attack on encryption is proof of strong encryption's usefulness and security. The agency didn't "crack" encryption; it apparently can't. Rather it developed its own, faulty encryption code that allowed it to read data encrypted using that code. Then it paid RSA to use that code in its products. To understand how this works, we have to understand RSA standard encryption.
The fact that it's called RSA encryption shows how prominent the products of this company are. RSA encryption uses a two-key system. When you start working with the encryption program, it generates your public key (a string of numbers and letters) and an accompanying "private key". You let everyone know your public key; mine is on my business card. You *never* let anyone know your private key.