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Posted by bio_man   March 4, 2022   3232 views
Whenever I think of the topic of government spying, I get flashbacks from a scene of a movie called "Good Will Hunting". In this one scene, the protagonist, who, in typical Hollywood fashion happens to be a polymath in practically all math and science-related subjects, is interviewed by the NSA after learning of his problem-solving brilliance. During the interview, the agent asks the protagonist why he has doubts about working for them, only to learn what the protagonists actually thinks of their organization. He believes that by working for the NSA, his codebreaking skills would only be used to inflict harm on others, and lead to a chain reaction of unexpected catastrophic events.


Unfortunately, many people hold the belief that intelligence agencies like the NSA are corrupt, and conspire to use technologies that spy on its own citizens. In 2013, these beliefs were validated by Edward Snowden, a former NSA agent, who revealed that the US government had created a global system of surveillance that spied on millions of Americans. This system surveilled phone conversations, private e-mails, and other types of messages, all without consent or court warrants. While Snowden did not leak information about the algorithms used in NSA operations, his "whistleblowing" legitimized the ideas that many people once thought were just conspiracy theories.

I like to believe that all government agencies are created with honorable intentions, that is, to serve and protect its citizens. Therefore, the NSA should keep secret, details involving technologies, such as the Data Encryption Standard (DES), that enable it to effectively collect foreign intelligence for the sake of national security. Despite what was revealed by Snowden, laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) outline what the NSA can and cannot do. For example, to eavesdrop on the U.S. end of an international communication involving a U.S. citizen in the United States, FISA requires intelligence agency to obtain a warrant. For a warrant to be approved, the intelligence agency would have to show grounds that the person they wished to target was an agent of a foreign power or was involved in terrorism or espionage. Thus, if a U.S. citizen is creating a national security threat, then spying is justified – all other cases are not.

Whether it be DES or some other algorithms, eventually all can be broken as computers become increasingly powerful. If I had the know-how to create a security algorithm, and suddenly learned that is on the verge of being compromised, I would find ways to improve it. Thus, the only way to prevent "back-door" spying by organizations is by continually improving the code to ensure it remains secure from unexpected intrusion. That is, a proactive versus reactive approach to security.

NSA government security cryptography DES Snowden
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I have never been one to think of conspiracy theories and have always felt that the government has our best interests at heart but after reading about DES and the Elliptic Curve Backdoor and later, the information revealed by Snowden, I can't help but to feel a bit mistrustful of the government. When I watched the video about the NSA involvement on the Elliptic Curve Backdoor, I felt nauseous. The money that the NSA put in to promoting their system, not giving certificates unless the NSA P+Q was used, reeks of corruption. The idea that people were using a cryptosystem that they were told was secure despite many red flags, is just downright dishonest. I understand the idea that the NSA was supposed to be getting warrants to spy on people in the name of national security but, correct me if I am wrong, this was not the case, and the NSA was not getting warrants and this is what Snowden revealed. Imagine a person was to pay money to put an item in a safety deposit box, thinking that this was secure. They are showed the box, it looks safe, but little did they know, there was a trapdoor in the back where the bank itself was either looking at or stealing the items. If people knew this was happening, I don’t think they would be very trustful of that bank anymore.

It is one thing to say that a cryptosystem might eventually be broken, that is the nature of the beast and that is how cryptosystems are improved but it is another for a government agency to purposefully build in a backdoor that essentially makes the entire cryptosystem, a system used to hide secrets, useless. As another person said in another post, this is perhaps the biggest issue that was caused by the dishonesty of the government. Now we have people who think that the government is putting microchips in the vaccine to spy on them or track their movements. Whenever I heard about this, I always thought, don’t worry, they aren’t putting microchips in vaccines, they have much more sophisticated means of spying on you!
Posted on Apr 25, 2022 by detimo
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