Top secret documents revealed by former United States National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden indicate that American and British intelligence agencies have cracked much of the online encryption which is supposed to protect the privacy of people’s personal data and email communications.
The documents reveal that the spy agencies used methods to defeat the use of “ubiquitous encryption across the Internet” such as: covert means to ensure that the NSA controlled setting of international encryption standards; the use of super computers to break encryption; and collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers (ISPs).
This information came from documents from the NSA and its United Kingdom counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which were obtained and published by the Guardian and the New York Times newspapers and the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.
The agencies, according to reports, also injected so called “backdoors” into commercial encryption software to ensure they could decrypt messages when they wanted to.
The assault against Internet encryption has been carried by the agencies since 2000, according to the documents. As much as $250 million is poured into the program by the NSA each year. The program includes covertly influencing product designs.
The GCHQ has also been working on breaking into the encryption traffic of online companies, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Hotmail.
Earlier this year, Snowden blew the lid off the NSA’s Prism program which was designed to gather online user data. Following the leak, it was made known that U.S. intelligence agencies are secretly empowered by law to compel American companies to release metadata on customers communications. Snowden is now in asylum in Russia.
The U.S. government has maintained that it was not spying on American citizens and that the surveillance activities were responsible for thwarting several critical terrorist plots.
Revelations that some high-profile American technology companies have been providing data to the government has caused some consternation in the industry with several businesses involved in the scandal scrambling to repair the public relations damage arising from privacy concerns.
Some analysts estimate that U.S. cloud computing firms could lose as much as $35 billion from the fallout of the Prism scandal.