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Friday, August 30, 2013

Some Hints Concerning the NSA's Decryption Capabilities

Wired Magazine speculates on the NSA's ability to decrypt electronic communications based on information in the black budget report published by the Washington Post. From Wired's article:

One of those methods, though, is hinted at in the Clapper summary — and it’s interesting. Clapper briefly notes some programs the intelligence agencies are closing or scaling back, as well as those they’re pouring additional funds into. Overhead imagery captured by spy satellites was slated for reduction, for example, while SIGINT, the electronic spying that’s been the focus of the Snowden leaks, got a fresh infusion.
 
“Also,” Clapper writes in a line marked “top secret,” “we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit internet traffic.” 
The Post’s article doesn’t detail the “groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities” Clapper mentions, and there’s no elaboration in the portion of the document published by the paper. But the document shows that 21 percent of the intelligence budget — around $11 billion — is dedicated to the Consolidated Cryptologic Program that staffs 35,000 employees in the NSA and the armed forces. 
In a WIRED story in March of last year — the pre-Snowden era of NSA reporting — James Bamford reported that the NSA secretly made some sort of “enormous breakthrough” in cryptanalysis several years earlier. 
Previous Snowden leaks have documented the NSA and British intelligence’s sniffing of raw internet traffic. But information on the NSA’s efforts to crack the encrypted portion of that traffic — which would include much of the email transiting the net — has remained absent; conspicuously so, given the NSA’s history as world-class codebreakers. The leaked budget document is the first published Snowden leak to touch upon the question of how safe routinely encrypted traffic is from cutting-edge nation-state spying.

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