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By Spiegel staff, Spiegel International Online, Dec. 28, 2014

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, photo by DPA-NSA

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, photo by DPA-NSA

When Christmas approaches, the spies of the Five Eyes intelligence services can look forward to a break from the arduous daily work of spying. In addition to their usual job — attempting to crack encryption all around the world — they play a game called the “Kryptos Kristmas Kwiz,” which involves solving challenging numerical and alphabetical puzzles. The proud winners of the competition are awarded “Kryptos” mugs.

Encryption — the use of mathematics to protect communications from spying — is used for electronic transactions of all types, by governments, firms and private users alike. But a look into the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden shows that not all encryption technologies live up to what they promise. One example is the encryption featured in Skype…

… It’s a suggestion unlikely to please some intelligence agencies. After all, the Five Eyes alliance — the secret services of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States — pursue a clear goal: removing the encryption of others on the Internet wherever possible. In 2013, the NSA had a budget of more than $10 billion. According to the US intelligence budget for 2013, the money allocated for the NSA department called Cryptanalysis and Exploitation Services (CES) alone was $34.3 million…

An important part of the Five Eyes’ efforts to break encryption on the Internet is the gathering of vast amounts of data. For example, they collect so-called SSL handshakes — that is, the first exchanges between two computers beginning an SSL connection. A combination of metadata about the connections and metadata from the encryption protocols then help to break the keys which in turn allow reading or recording the now decrypted traffic.

If all else fails, the NSA and its allies resort to brute force: They hack their target’s computers or Internet routers to get to the secret encryption — or they intercept computers on the way to their targets, open them and insert spy gear before they even reach their destination, a process they call interdiction…

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSEC) even monitors sites devoted to the country’s national pastime: “We have noticed a large increase in chat activity on the hockeytalk sites. This is likely due to the beginning of playoff season,” it says in one presentation…

Read the full article at the weblink above.

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