The intelligence community has worried about ‘going dark’ forever, but today they are conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort. This is the golden age of spying.
Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research, in an interview about the NSA’s ability to crack mobile and Internet encryption technologies in order to eavesdrop on online communications and other activities. ProPublica, Revealed: The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security.
The News: The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica have partnered on the Edward Snowden NSA leaks to reveal that “the NSA has secretly and successfully worked to break many types of encryption, the widely used technology that is supposed to make it impossible to read intercepted communications.”
Key Takeaway, Part 01: “For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies… [Now] vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”
Key Takeaway, Part 02: “Some of the agency’s most intensive efforts have focused on the encryption in universal use in the United States, including Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL; virtual private networks, or VPNs; and the protection used on fourth-generation, or 4G, smartphones.”
Key Takeaway, Part 03: “Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the NSA invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.”
FJP: “Stealth” is an interesting word choice here. The reason for that is that back in the 90s, the NSA wanted backdoor access to encryption technologies via what it called the Clipper Chip. Proposed during the Clinton administration, and debated publicly, the effort went nowhere with critics pointing out the obvious privacy concerns as well as the economic concerns of US companies being required to allow intelligence agencies access to its encryption technologies. (Read: why would any foreign entity — government, business, individual or otherwise — choose a US technology solution that it knew wasn’t secure?)
As Techdirt notes, “That fight ended with the NSA losing… and now it appears that they just ignored that and effectively spent the past few decades doing the same exact thing, but in secret.”
Very Interesting Aside, Part 01: “Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying that it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read. The news organizations 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 tools for protecting the privacy of Americans and others.”
Very Interesting Aside, Part 02: ProPublica explains why it published the story.
Last year ProPublica won the first Pulitzer for an online news site. This year, they have been awarded the first Pulitzer for a series that did not appear in print. The series was Eisinger and Bernstein’s ‘The Wall Street Money Machine,’ which described how hedge funds and financiers profited from the collapse of the economy. ProPublica publishes under a Creative Commons license and hosts a Nerd Blog where they write about journalism-related hacking and publish open source tools they have developed.
Today’s honor caps a series of awards for ProPublica this year, including two George Polk Awards, one for radio (with NPR) for our series on brain injuries to our troops, another for television (with Frontline) for our reporting on police violence in New Orleans after Katrina; a National Magazine Award finalist nod for our story on dialysis facilities; the American Society of News Editors Batten Medal for sustained reporting on the New Orleans police story; two Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, one for the dialysis story and accompanying database, the other for innovation for our “Dollars for Docs” series; and two awards from the Society for News Design for our news applications.
Paul Steiger, Editor in Chief, ProPublica, writing today about the non-profit’s Pulitzer win for National Reporting. ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein won the award for a series on Wall Street bankers who enriched (or tried to) themselves at the expense of their clients and — in some cases — their firms.
This is the first time a digital only series has won the Pulitzer.
Congratulations to an exceptional organization for showing what a non-profit can do in journalism.