Freshly disclosed top-secret files show the UK and U.S. spying agencies have had access to personal data, online transactions and emails of hundreds of millions of people, who had been given assurances about their privacy, according to a newspaper report.
The documents revealed by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden and reported by the British daily The Guardian expose the fact that the guarantees given to customers by Internet companies to maintain their privacy were readily and easily compromised, which means the UK and U.S. spying apparatuses, GCHQ and the National Security Agency (NSA), respectively, had cracked the data’s online encryption.
Therefore, it is understood that the people’s communications, medical records and online banking were easily decipherable by governments and criminals as well.
According to the documents, the big spies have been using sophisticated methods systematically and in collaboration with internet service providers (ISPs) and technology firms themselves – to use supercomputers to break encryption with “brute force”, as well as employing covert measures to allow them have control over setting of international encryption standards.
Through these covert partnerships, the spies managed to insert secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software.
The files include information suggesting that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually by the U.S. and British governments to “covertly influence” technology companies’ product designs.
Senior British spies have also been working to find ways to crack encrypted traffic in Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Hotmail as the big four ISPs, according to the documents.
Defeating encryption has been described by spying agencies as vital to develop spying as a means of fighting terror.
But security experts believe this will undermine privacy of all internet users and can be regarded as an attack on the internet itself.
“Cryptography forms the basis for trust online,” said Bruce Schneier, an encryption specialist and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “By deliberately undermining online security in a short-sighted effort to eavesdrop, the NSA is undermining the very fabric of the internet.”