For me, the most under-reported, under-appreciated element of the Snowden leaks is the BULLRUN/EDGEHILL program, through which the NSA and GCHQ spend $250,000,000/year sabotaging information security. In a great Wired story, Andy Greenberg analyzes former NSA chief Keith Alexander's defense of the stockpiling of vulnerabilities to attack "bad guys." There is no delusion more deadly than the idea that spies will make us more secure by weakening our computers' security to make it easier to spy on us.
Last December, a group of advisers to the White House issued a report to President Obama calling on him to rein-in the intelligence community’s use of so-called zero-day vulnerabilities–newly discovered hackable software bugs for which there exist no patch. The group went on to propose that zero-days only be used sparingly for “high priority intelligence collection,” and that those uses must be approved by a “senior-level, interagency approval process.”
“In almost all instances, for widely used code, it is in the national interest to eliminate software vulnerabilities rather than to use them for US intelligence collection,” the report reads. “Eliminating the vulnerabilities–’patching’ them–strengthens the security of U.S. Government, critical infrastructure, and other computer systems.”
Obama’s response to his advisers’ review, however, added a major loophole, allowing any zero-day vulnerabilities to be exploited if they have a “clear national security or law enforcement” application.
Former NSA Chief Defends Stockpiling Software Flaws for Spying [Andy Greenberg/Wired]
Image: Commander Keith Alexander on the bridge, DonkeyHotey, CC-BY-SA)
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