[cryptography] [info] The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)

ianG iang at iang.org
Sun Mar 18 21:31:05 EDT 2012

On 17/03/12 00:35 AM, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> (yay, Bamford is back from the dead)
> http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

the interesting claim:

> .... the NSA made an enormous
> breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break,
> unfathomably complex encryption systems

Well.  Any clues?  Shrinking this down some:

> ...  For years, one of the hardest shells has been the
> Advanced Encryption Standard, one of several algorithms used by much of the
> world to encrypt data....
> Breaking into those complex mathematical shells like the AES is one of the
> key reasons for the construction going on in Bluffdale. That kind of
> cryptanalysis requires two major ingredients: super-fast computers to conduct
> brute-force attacks on encrypted messages and a massive number of those
> messages for the computers to analyze. The more messages from a given target,
> the more likely it is for the computers to detect telltale patterns, and
> Bluffdale will be able to hold a great many messages. “We questioned it one
> time,” says another source, a senior intelligence manager who was also
> involved with the planning. “Why were we building this NSA facility? And,
> boy, they rolled out all the old guys—the crypto guys.” According to the
> official, these experts told then-director of national intelligence Dennis
> Blair, “You’ve got to build this thing because we just don’t have the
> capability of doing the code-breaking.” It was a candid admission. In the
> long war between the code breakers and the code makers—the tens of thousands
> of cryptographers in the worldwide computer security industry—the code
> breakers were admitting defeat.
> So the agency had one major ingredient—a massive data storage facility—under
> way. Meanwhile, across the country in Tennessee, the government was working
> in utmost secrecy on the other vital element: the most powerful computer the
> world has ever known.

> Meanwhile, over in Building 5300, the NSA succeeded in building an even
> faster supercomputer. “They made a big breakthrough,” says another former
> senior intelligence official, who helped oversee the program. The NSA’s
> machine was likely similar to the unclassified Jaguar, but it was much faster
> out of the gate, modified specifically for cryptanalysis and targeted against
> one or more specific algorithms, like the AES. In other words, they were
> moving from the research and development phase to actually attacking
> extremely difficult encryption systems. The code-breaking effort was up and
> running.
> The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward
> the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the
> intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and
> the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,”
> he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was
> going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”
> In addition to giving the NSA access to a tremendous amount of Americans’
> personal data, such an advance would also open a window on a trove of foreign
> secrets. While today most sensitive communications use the strongest
> encryption, much of the older data stored by the NSA, including a great deal
> of what will be transferred to Bluffdale once the center is complete, is
> encrypted with more vulnerable ciphers. “Remember,” says the former
> intelligence official, “a lot of foreign government stuff we’ve never been
> able to break is 128 or less. Break all that and you’ll find out a lot more
> of what you didn’t know—stuff we’ve already stored—so there’s an enormous
> amount of information still in there.” The NSA believes it’s on the verge of
> breaking a key encryption algorithm—opening up hoards of data.
> That, he notes, is where the value of Bluffdale, and its mountains of
> long-stored data, will come in. What can’t be broken today may be broken
> tomorrow. “Then you can see what they were saying in the past,” he says. “By
> extrapolating the way they did business, it gives us an indication of how
> they may do things now.” The danger, the former official says, is that it’s
> not only foreign government information that is locked in weaker algorithms,
> it’s also a great deal of personal domestic communications, such as
> Americans’ email intercepted by the NSA in the past decade.
> But first the supercomputer must break the encryption, and to do that, speed
> is everything.

... So after a lot of colour, it is not clear if they can break AES. 
Yet.  OK.  But that is their plan.  And they think they can do it, 
within their foreseeable future.  Maybe soon.  Or maybe they can, and 
they've managed to get their own agency to at least believe it's in the 
future, not now.  Or maybe they can at 128, but not larger?

OK, that's a significant factoid - the goal is in sight.

It's also interesting that they are justifying the goal to hoover 
everything up as needed for future cryptanalysis material for when they 
can break the codes.


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