US security agency does not deny still using secret backdoors in tech devices

Adam Smith
·2-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The NSA has dodged questions about whether it is placing back doors into commercial technology products.

The United States’ intelligence agency could use back doors to secretly harvest information from users of consumer electronics without their knowledge or consent.

The revelations came after the Edward Snowden scandal, during which the former NSA contractor said there was collaboration between technology companies and telecoms to provide the NSA with ways spy on users.

This reportedly includes products from Cisco, Microsoft (via Skype), Yahoo, and Google.

The technology giants denied that they worked voluntarily with the intelligence agencies. The NSA told the Guardian in 2013 that the companies’ co-operation was "legally compelled", something that other reports have called into question.

Since then, the NSA has developed new rules to reduce the chances of exposure and compromise, according to Reuters, but has “stonewalled” on providing any information about said guidelines.

“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,” Senator Ron Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.

“The government shouldn’t have any role in planting secret back doors in encryption technology used by Americans.”

The NSA refused to confirm how its policies had been changed regarding special access to commercial products.

“At NSA, it’s common practice to constantly assess processes to identify and determine best practices,” said Anne Neuberger, the head of the NSA’s Cybersecurity Directorate.

“We don’t share specific processes and procedures.”

The news comes as many governments are seeking to break down protections of consumer technologies such as WhatsApp and other encrypted chatting applications.

The governments of the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, and Japan signed a statement asking technology companies to provide a backdoor into encrypted services.Â

However if end-to-end encryption is ‘broken’, by allowing a backdoor for law enforcement agencies as these governments have suggested, it could allow malicious individuals the ability to access private conversations.

It is reported that a foreign government was able to use a backdoor created by US intelligence in 2015, revealed in a statement to members of Congress apparently seen in July by Reuters by Juniper Networks.

The NSA and Juniper declined to comment.

Many tech companies are nervous about working covertly with governments, according to a former senior NSA official reportedly told Reuters, but the NSA’s efforts to encourage cooperation are seen as too valuable to relinquish.

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