The American National Security Agency (NSA) and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have for years successfully undermined the privacy guarantees given by banks, financial institutions, retailers and health providers, according to The Guardian and other news sources today. Communications and transactions that were supposedly shielded from government and criminal spying have now been revealed to be open books, thanks to the invasive and persistent efforts of the NSA and GCHQ.
These two agencies have, among other things, installed secret backdoors into programs relied upon by millions to keep their private information and financial transactions private. The presence of these backdoors necessarily weaken the security of these encryption programs, and raise the specter of hackers and criminals exploiting these backdoors to gain access into our banking, medical, identity and communications records. "Backdoors are fundamentally in conflict with good security," says Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Backdoors expose all users of a backdoored system, not just intelligence agency targets, to heightened risk of data compromise."
The methods used by the NSA and GCHQ to secretly gain access to highly personal and confidential information include brute force encryption cracking with highly-sophisticated super computers, and the intentional insertion of "vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems". As Bruce Schneier, an encryption specialist and fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society says, "By deliberately undermining online security in a short-sighted effort to eavesdrop, the NSA is undermining the very fabric of the internet." In a separate Guardian commentary yesterday, Schneier also argues that "The NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract," and that "Government and industry have betrayed us... We can no longer trust them to be ethical Internet stewards."