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Microsoft Fortifies Encryption to Thwart NSA Spying

4 Dec, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

REDMOND, Wash. – Microsoft believes the National Security Agency (NSA) may have broken into its global communications links so it’s looking to encrypt its internet traffic, the Washington Post reports.

Microsoft’s suspicions rose in October when media reports said the NSA was intercepting traffic inside Google and Yahoo networks. Top Microsoft executives met last week to decide what encryption initiatives to deploy and when.

Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggest – but do not prove – that the company is right to be concerned. Two previously unreleased slides that describe operations against Google and Yahoo include references to Microsoft’s Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger services. A separate NSA E-mail mentions Microsoft Passport, a Web-based service formerly offered by Microsoft, as a possible target of that same surveillance project, called MUSCULAR, which was first disclosed by the Washington Post last month.

Though Microsoft officials said they had no independent verification of the NSA targeting the company in this way, general counsel Brad Smith said last week that it would be “very disturbing” and a possible constitutional breach if true.

NSA’s response to questions about Microsoft reads: “NSA’s focus is on targeting the communications of valid foreign intelligence targets, not on collecting and exploiting a class of communications or services that would sweep up communications that are not of bona fide foreign intelligence interest to the U.S. government.”

The Washington Post reports Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other major technology firms have upped their defenses in response to news reports about once-secret NSA programs. The companies also are building defenses against U.S. government surveillance programs in addition to combating hackers, criminals or foreign intelligence services.

“That’s a pretty big change in the way these companies have operated,” said Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins University cryptography expert. “And it’s a big engineering effort.”

Though lawmakers have several efforts underway to curb the NSA’s surveillance powers, the move by private companies to expand the use of encryption technology may prove to be the most tangible outcome of months of revelations based on documents that Snowden provided to the Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

A U.S. official who spoke anonymously, told the Post that collection can be done at various points and does not necessarily happen on a company’s private fiber-optic links.

About the Author: Doug McPherson

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