Australia’s electronic spy agency reportedly has access to a top secret program that has successfully cracked the encryption used by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their emails, phone calls and online business transactions.
Documents disclosed by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal the program run by the US National Security Agency, codenamed Bullrun, has been used to secretly descramble high-level internet security systems globally.
They show the NSA and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have successfully cracked the encryption used in personal communications such as email and telephone calls as well as global commerce and banking systems.
An undated ”briefing sheet” on the program, provided to British analysts when they are cleared for access to Bullrun, was published on Friday in The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers.
It states that the Australian Signals Directorate – until recently called the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) – was expected to be granted access.
”In recent years there has been an aggressive effort, lead [sic] by NSA, to make major improvements in defeating network security and privacy involving multiple sources and methods, all of which are extremely sensitive and fragile,” the briefing paper says.
”These include: Computer Network Exploitation (CNE); collaboration with other intelligence agencies; investment in high performance computers; and development of advanced mathematical techniques.”
It explains the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, ”is also introducing BULLRUN … CSEC, DSD and GCSB are expected to do likewise”.
The New York Times reported that the full extent of the NSA’s decryption capabilities – including Bullrun – is only shared with members of the so-called ”Five Eyes”: the NSA and equivalent agencies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The newspaper reported documents disclosed by Mr Snowden reveal the NSA has ”circumvented or cracked” much of the encryption that automatically protects emails, web searches and phone calls.
The Guardian reported the documents reveal Britain’s GCHQ has been working on ways to unscramble encryption used by service providers Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.
Last month it emerged in other documents released by Mr Snowden, that the Australian Signals Directorate is in a partnership with British, American and Singaporean intelligence agencies to tap undersea fibre-optic telecommunications cables that link Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The cables carry much of Australia’s international phone and internet traffic.
In May, Mr Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA, disclosed documents revealing efforts by the US agency to track telephone conversations and internet traffic globally.
Edward Snowden reveals Australia’s link to US spy web: http://www.smh.com.au/world/snowden-reveals-australias-links-to-us-spy-web-20130708-2plyg.html
PRISM: the Australian connection: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-28/brissenden-data-practice/4786782
Australia gets ‘deluge’ of US secret data, prompting a new data facility: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/it-pro/government-it/australia-gets-deluge-of-us-secret-data-prompting-a-new-data-facility-20130612-2o4kf.html
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Author: Sean Nicholls