Washington: Intelligence agencies of the US and the UK have teamed up to crack the encryption technology designed to provide online privacy that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, Internet chats and phone calls.
The National Security Agency of the United States and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have cracked the encryption by using supercomputers, court orders, and some cooperation from technology companies, according to multiple media reports in the US and UK.
The classified documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden show the NSA has cracked much of the encryption that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, Internet chats and phone calls, the reports said.
News articles by The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica reported that these classified documents reveal that unlike commonly presumed in the public, none of the data on internet is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the NSA wants to keep it that way.
"The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets," The New York Times said.
The NSA deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the US and abroad to build entry points into their products, but the documents do not identify which of the IT companies participated in it.
The agency hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted, the report said. In some cases, companies say they were coerced by the government into handing over their master encryption keys or building in a back door.
"And the agency used its influence as the world`s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world," the report said.
"For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies," said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about NSA accomplishments for employees of the GCHQ.
The media outlets said they were asked by the intelligence officials not to publish the articles arguing that this might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read.
The news organisations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful privacy tools, media outlets reported.