Microsoft Helped The NSA Bypass Its Own Encryption Software, Spy On Its Clients

Tyler Durden's picture

A few days ago, when we reported that NSA code had been inserted in Google's Android open-sourced OS (much to the fury of open-source code advocates everywhere), we noted that it has been public information that over a decade ago, Microsoft had inadvertently left clear signs that it was providing backdoor access to its legacy Microsoft operating systems. It turns out that this was merely the beginning. According to another just released report by the Guardian citing Snowden files, "Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian."

From the Guardian:

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:

  • Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
  • The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
  • The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
  • Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand" potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
  • Skype, which was bought by Microsoft in October 2011, worked with intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect video of conversations as well as audio;
  • Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".

None of this is any surprise: that America's electronic communication sector is in bed with Uncle Bush and Uncle Obama was made abundantly clear in ""You Should Use Both" - How America's Internet Companies Are Handing Over Your Data To Uncle Sam." Still, prima facie proof that corporations systematically betray the privacy of their clients in order to curry favor with the government should be troubling if only to those who are not in the same state of completely symbiotic relationship with the government and whose sustinence depends on preserving Big Government at all costs, which as we will shows in a post shortly is just over 110 million Americans.

More from the Guardian explaining how anyone using MSFT products should be aware that the NSA logs every single keystroke:

The latest documents come from the NSA's Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the "crown jewel" of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.

 

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft's Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.

 

Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats

 

A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: "MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal" with the issue. "These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012."

 

Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.

 

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. "For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption."

 

Microsoft's co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.

 

The document describes how this access "means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about".

 

The NSA explained that "this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response". It continued: "This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established."

 

A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. "The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes."

 

The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.

 

One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'," it says.

Actually make that the NSA, as well as the FBI and CIA.

The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

 

The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that "enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism".

 

The document continues: "The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…" As a result, the author notes: "these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!"

Microsoft's statement to the Guardian:

We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

 

Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren't valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.

 

Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That's why we've argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.

It also means that anyone who is reading this and has gotten this far into the post, has already triggered numerous NSA, FBI and CIA alarms and likely been branded by the NSA as a "reader" instead of a perfectly docile sheep who uses their spare time and negative savings to buy AMZN at #Ref! multiples and does the patriotic thing of buying the S&P at Bernankulous valuations.