Over the last year, nearly all the news and outcry about the National Security (NSA) has focused on its programs to collect phone records and spy on Internet communications. However, the NSA is also engaging in secretly undermining essential encryption tools and standards and, among other things, putting backdoors into computer hardware and software products.
Not only have they stockpiled the vulnerabilities in commercial software we use every day rather than attempting to fix those security flaws, they have been putting spyware into computers around the world by impersonating popular sights like Facebook and LinkedIn. They have even gone so far as to hack into Google and Yahoo’s private data links.
Congress has finally started paying attention to these disturbing actions. In June, the House voted to approve two amendments to defund the NSA’s attempted to undermine encryption standards and to insert surveillance backdoors into the communications technologies we rely on. Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Alan Grayson sponsored these amendments. In discussing the current risks, Rep. Lofgren said:
“When an individual or organization builds a back door for a system with electronic surveillance into their product or service, they place the data security of every person in business at risk. It’s simple. If a backdoor is created for law enforcement purposes, it’s only a matter of time before a hacker exploits it. In fact, it’s already happened on more than one occasion.”
Similarly, Rep. Grayson explained why we should be outraged by the NSA’s programs:
“If the Chinese government had proposed to put in a back door into our computers and then paid a company $10 million to make that the standard, we would be furious. We would be angry. We’d do something about it. But what if it’s our own government that does that? That’s exactly what the NSA has become: the best hacker in the entire world.”
On July 7, 2014, New America hosted a wide-ranging panel discussion between technologists, policy experts and Internet industry representatives, to discuss how the NSA’s actions threaten Internet security and the Internet economy that relies on it, and how we can address that threat on both a personal and a policy level. With introductory comments by Representatives Lofgren and Grayson and appearances by experts such as Internet security luminary Bruce Schneier and Google’s top privacy lawyer in DC, the panel dug deep into the policy and the technology of the NSA programs that have been most overlooked. The event also previewed the research paper from New America’s Open Technology Institute, “Surveillance Costs: How NSA Spying Undermines the Economy, Cybersecurity, and Internet Freedom”.