Encryption

Need Proof That Encryption Backdoors Lead to Hacking? It Happened to Our Own Government.

The National Security Agency arranged for security systems to be secretly compromised. Then the Chinese government allegedly found its way in.

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Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray frequently and insistently demand that social media platforms and messaging apps implement encryption backdoors that allow law enforcement to bypass user security in order to access communications. Cybersecurity experts and tech companies warn that such backdoors will inevitably compromise everybody's data and lead to hacking and intrusion by foreign governments.

It turns out the federal government already knows this because it has already happened…to the federal government. Reuters reports today that the National Security Agency (NSA), which historically has worked to have encryption backdoors secretly placed in computers by tech companies to ease foreign surveillance, saw a security system subsequently compromised, possibly by the Chinese government.

The company involved is California-based Juniper Networks, which agreed to install an encryption system component that the NSA could exploit and bypass. According to Reuters, in 2015, Juniper Networks discovered malicious code in some of its firewall products. Researchers later discovered that whoever introduced the code had turned the firewalls into their own spying tool.

While Reuters doesn't officially know who the customer was or who the hackers were, researchers told them that the client was likely a U.S. government agency. Do you recall when China was accused of hacking into the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and stealing millions of records? That was also discovered in 2015, though it's not clear whether there's a relationship between these hacks.

The reason for the lack of clarity is due to NSA secrecy, according to Reuters. After the NSA got burned with its own backdoor, the agency told staffers for Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) it had put together a "lessons learned" report about what happened with new guidance on implementing backdoors. But, now the NSA says it can't find the report.

That the NSA had secretly been negotiating backdoors into some encryption systems was one of the details revealed by Edward Snowden in his whistleblowing. Wyden, a leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee (and advocate of preserving strong encryption and data privacy), has been trying to find out what sort of guidelines the NSA had developed, but he's been stonewalled.

Wyden grasps the potential threat of secret backdoors and warned Reuters, "Secret encryption back doors are a threat to national security and the safety of our families–it's only a matter of time before foreign hackers or criminals exploit them in ways that undermine American national security."

At the same time, the Justice Department is still relentlessly trying to make our encryption worse, and so have other governments, like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, and Japan. Earlier this month, national law enforcement leaders from all these countries signed a letter demanding that encryption be weakened, claiming that police need access to fight child sexual exploitation.

Privacy and technology experts have been warning all along that these demands would actually make everybody more vulnerable to crime for very little gain and would compromise everybody's privacy and data security.

From today's Reuters report, we now know that not only does the federal government understand the fatal flaws of encryption backdoors, but the government itself was likely a victim of hacking as a result of a backdoor. That makes it all the more shameful that people like Barr and other governments continue to demand them.

NEXT: Invoking Scalia, Sotomayor Presses for Broad Fourth Amendment Protections

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  1. “But, now the NSA says it can’t find the report.”
    Choose one or more:
    They encrypted so well it vanished
    They are lying
    They never wrote it
    They are lying
    The Communist Chinese stole it
    They are lying

    1. I pick lying.

      PS: Joe Biden is a crook.

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  2. Always remember, computer encryption should only be used on an already encoded message.

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  3. “Need Proof That Encryption Backdoors Lead to Hacking?”

    No.

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  5. Points finger at NSA -> HaHa

  6. Nah that happened during Obama’s reign of terror it must be Russian disinformation.

  7. Makes sense. If China slipped in your backdoor, you probably wouldn’t feel it.

  8. This article is implying that a backdoor put in Juniper products at the behest of NSA was used by China to hack in. That is simply false.

    1. There’s something wrong with the way this article reads. I completely agree on the premise of encryption back doors, but this article is scatter brained on what really happened here.

      1. To be fair, so is the NSA, apparently.

        But this does imply the Chinese NSA is competent, which I find unlikely. It’s all too easy to believe your opponent are super smart, super tough, super competent, when in reality, they are just as bone-headed as everybody else. I’d suspect being the product of communist ideology and one-party bureaucracy makes them even more bone-headed.

        1. They are, in fact, reasonably competent, but only in the way that any other Chinese sector is competent: they figure out what somebody else has already done and then copy/clone it.

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    1. Clearly not teaching math!
      $8 to $10 per hour for 3 hours is $40 ?

      Learning English is hard.

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  10. Excerpted from the above: “The reason for the lack of clarity is due to NSA secrecy, according to Reuters. After the NSA got burned with its own backdoor, the agency told staffers for Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) it had put together a “lessons learned” report about what happened with new guidance on implementing backdoors. But, now the NSA says it can’t find the report.”

    Could these high toned government mobs/agencies take your pick, find their behinds, using both hands and a flashlight on a bright summer’s day? You tell me.

  11. As with most cautionary stories with anonymous or odd sourcing, this probably is not true, and designed to prove a point predetermined by the (Reuters) writer.

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