The US National Security Agency has secretly developed encryption technology that billions of internet users rely to protect everything from email to financial transactions, according to media reports citing documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The Guardian, The New York Times and journalistic nonprofit ProPublica reported on Thursday that the US National Security Agency has bypassed or altogether cracked much of the digital encryption used by businesses and everyday Web users.
The publications said the NSA and its British partner, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) reported making strides against Secure Sockets Layer technology, which protects millions of websites beginning in “Https,” and virtual private networks.
The reports describe how the NSA invested billions of dollars since 2000 to make nearly everyone’s secrets available for government consumption.
In doing so, the NSA built powerful supercomputers to break encryption codes and partnered with unnamed technology companies to insert “back doors” into their software, the reports said.
Such a practice would give the government access to users’ digital information before it was encrypted and sent over the Internet.
“For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” according to a 2010 briefing document about the NSA’s accomplishments meant for GCHQ.
Security experts told the news organisations that such a code-breaking practice would ultimately undermine Internet security and leave everyday Web users vulnerable to hackers.
One document said GCHQ had been trying for years to exploit traffic from popular companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook.
GCHQ, they said, developed “new access opportunities” into Google’s computers by 2012 but said the newly released documents didn’t elaborate on how extensive the project was or what kind of data it could access.
Even though the latest document disclosures suggest the NSA is able to compromise many encryption programmes, Snowden himself touted using encryption software when he first surfaced with his media revelations in June.