back to article Snowden docs: NSA building encryption-cracking quantum computer

The latest document stash from whistle-blower Edward Snowden shows that the NSA has budgeted $79.7m for the development of a quantum computer capable of "owning the net." "The Owning the Net (OTN) Project provides the technological means for NSA/CSS to gain access to and securely return high value target communications," one …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm not an American but I really am curious as to what Americans think about what the NSA is doing on their behalf.

    Do they care that so much of their money is being pissed away in such an undemocratic way?

    You guys might want to consider how dissimilar the US, Chinese and Russian governments still are regarding both their size, reach and their interference into individuals' daily lives. At least in Russia and China, they are obvious and overt about what they get up to regarding the Internet and for good and bad, they firmly and publicly believe they are doing right.

    The NSA would much rather you didn't know anything at all. Makes you kinda wonder if they are ashamed at what they've turned into. They need to be stopped right now, and very publicly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You are comparing two whole governments, Russia and China, against a single US spy agency. Try to compare the equivalent agencies for each country and see what you come up with.

      "The NSA would much rather you didn't know anything at all. Makes you kinda wonder if they are ashamed at what they've turned into"

      I didn't know that other spy agencies around the world were open and transparent to the public. Of course the NSA doesn't want anyone to know what they are doing, they are a SPY agency.

      "Do they care that so much of their money is being pissed away in such an undemocratic way?"

      I would prefer that the US didn't give money away to support other nations, or pay politicians such a high salary, or spend so much on the military just to have US soldiers end up as the world police. The whole US budget needs to get redone, not just NSA funding.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >You are comparing two whole governments, Russia and China, against a single US spy agency. Try to compare the equivalent agencies for each country and see what you come up with.

        Point taken. However, taken together, as an outsider that occasionally has to travel to the US, the Department of Homeland Security, Border Services, the NSA, the gun culture... you live in one seriously scary place.

        > I didn't know that other spy agencies around the world were open and transparent to the public. Of course the NSA doesn't want anyone to know what they are doing, they are a SPY agency.

        Point taken again. However, my point is about scale and lack of restraint. Russia and China have no pretensions (well realistic ones anyway) about democracy. The US does.

        > I would prefer that the US didn't give money away to support other nations, or pay politicians such a high salary, or spend so much on the military just to have US soldiers end up as the world police. The whole US budget needs to get redone, not just NSA funding.

        I totally agree. That the US administration is so far in the shit with the national debt (which is still growing by billions each month, despite the fed's taper), they always seem to be able to find the money for these kinds of things.

        1. dssf

          And, don't forget how much of that US debt China owns

          It is almost ludicrous, hilarious that, while regarding the Chinese government as mortal enemy number one, the USA also regards it as Benefactor Number One, allowing its so-called enemy nearly TOTAL access to the entire country, the etire economy, the debt base, and basically the soundness (and the soundlessness) in the "sanctity" of the US dollar.

          Just look at the politicos who'll sell their mother, spouse, or child for a buck. Or two.

          They are hypocrites, partially, and scary as hell, partially.

          But, what to do? What to do? Don't become loud enough to get put into their crosshairs?

    2. Gray

      Seized ... not pissed away.

      I'm an American (had no choice, really, an accident of birth) and yes, I and many others do care that our money is being pissed away. I'd rather some of it was used to deal with the 80-year-old bridge that connects our island to the mainland before it fails/falls, money that will never be made available for at least another decade.

      But we don't get a choice. Nobody asks our opinion. Those decisions are made behind closed doors in D.C. by people on the political dole. Can we choose those people? Not really. Who to vote for, Frick or Frack?

      The NSA don't give a good rat's ass about public opinion. Never did, never will. Lies on top of lies atop layers of secrecy and deception. Nobody can touch the NSA; "national security" trumps all, everywhere, everywhen.

      Shame? Only that they haven't got the quantum computer to decrypt the entire internet on the fly; that's the shame of it. If it only requires tons of money, they'll have the means soon enough.

      As for my village of fellow Americans; we live within the 100-mile zone south of the Canadian border. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are authorized to seize my cell phone, laptop, and all other information-bearing digital devices, and all notebooks, diaries, and other printed documents without warrant or reason, whether we approach the border or not. Its the law since 9/11. All they require is motive, not justification. So we should get upset at the latest NSA lust for information? Siphoning it off the 'net is perhaps more convenient, but uniformed agents can get the whole kit in one grab.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Seized ... not pissed away.

        As an American, I agree that there is little choice between the Dems and Republicans on this issue. The House Intelligence Committee is controlled by the Republicans and Mike "Your privacy is not being invaded if you don't know you're being watched" Rogers. The senate intelligence committee is controlled by Democrats and Dianne "We know what the NSA is doing. What?, we've been tapping Angela Merkel's phone for the last 10 years!?" Feinstein is chair.

        In one of history's more blatant examples of regulatory capture, both Rogers and Feinstein have rather obviously morphed into protectors and enablers of the intelligence community instead of providing supervision.

        And the President is just as bad. Sure, he inherited a lot of these programs from Bush, but he's done nothing to stop them in the last 5 years. Plus he ran as someone who would dial back the snooping in his first term. Campaign promise abandoned!

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Never Piss away Advantage for it Presents Supply Chains with Hot Product.

        Shame? Only that they haven't got the quantum computer to decrypt the entire internet on the fly; that's the shame of it. If it only requires tons of money, they'll have the means soon enough. … Gray Posted Friday 3rd January 2014 22:10 GMT

        And what whenever there is Free Live Virtual Choice in Quantum Communication Control Systems where Everything is Realised and Presented to Posterity for ReCycling with Advanced IntelAIgents with Deep Subtle Enactive Pre Pro Quid pro Quo Engagement …. Steganographically Intense Dialogue for Global Operating Devices Initiation and Float to Markets ….. in that tired Ye Olde Capitaliste Systems Mode/Mirror/Clone/Drone :-) which has ITs Pioneering Spirit hosted here for accesses there where accesses are denied.

        Would too great a choice just create Havoc in Mayhem and Madness with CHAOS Drivering Systems. And then the good use to put Such SMARTR Systems to denigrate and eliminate misuse and abuse of CHAOS Drivering Systems Delivering the Paramount Future Deja-Vu with Globalised Capital Assets ReOrganised and ReAssigned and ReAligned.

        The future is now to be remembered and/or rendered. But what doth Media and IT Behold and Present? Dumb Down Channels or Red Hot SMARTR Apps? So where is the cool live action at, Yo?

        Where might a slim dude hang to capture the mighty breezes? What Heavenly Base or Hellfire Station ?:-) The Perfect Cathouse or the Deadly Dogfight?….. where Dirty Deeds Done are Not Dirt Cheap and Demand for 3D Product is Growing Exponentially.

        Which be a sector of Particular and Peculiar Interest to Dark Web Enterprise in Black Watch Ventures.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm not American either, but get real man .... All countries have military and civil intelligence agencies and they all make an extensive use of signal intelligence (capturing, decrypting and tracing network communications). So everyone - not only the yanks - is looking at quantum computing and ways to break into current encryption systems....

      The UK for example has spent a sizeable amount in the area .

      Besides this has nothing to do with tech, intelligence services are by definition "undemocratic" insofar as they must operate covertly and away from immediate public scrutiny. So the real problem is - and has always been - whether you trust the (democratically elected) government which controls these organisations to act in the best public interest.

      Where would YOU go given the choice between north korea (which doesn't have quantum computers and says clearly where it stands) and the "big bad undemocratic" USofA ... I'm ready to bet you would still chose the latter....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > I'm not American either, but get real man

        Hell yeah, I wasn't trying to single out the NSA. GCHQ is almost as bad.

        The government have legitimate need to protect their country's interests against bad guys home and abroad, I get the general impression that the NSA has seriously both lost the plot and any kind of handle on what excess means. There doesn't appear to be any restraint.

        One of the things that these people seriously don't understand is that with living in a free society comes with real risks. Yes, someone could decide to blow up a bus or poison some mail and we all must be vigilant against them. However, even if it is difficult to draw, there is a line that we should not cross. The NSA doesn't even realise that the line is there.

      2. sam bo

        "whether you trust the (democratically elected) government which controls these organisations to act in the best public interest."

        Best laugh I've had all day ! No government controls these organisations - when you operate above the law - you do as you please, and we all know what happens when you have absolute power.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Where would YOU go given the choice between north korea (which doesn't have quantum computers and says clearly where it stands) and the "big bad undemocratic" USofA ... I'm ready to bet you would still chose the latter....

        Having to choose between the rock and the hard place is, thankfully, not something that I have to do at the moment. So I respectfully decline to make the choice.

      4. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        So the real problem is - and has always been - whether you trust the (democratically elected) government which controls these organisations to act in the best public interest.

        No, the real problem is whether any government, democratically elected or no, can control these organisations. Spy organisations operate in secret, out of necessity. They don't explain everything they do to the government. They operate on a need to know basis with everything. How can you control something when you do not know what they are doing?

        Where would YOU go given the choice between north korea (which doesn't have quantum computers and says clearly where it stands) and the "big bad undemocratic" USofA ... I'm ready to bet you would still chose the latter....

        Where would you rather live: A slum in India or in captivity in Guantanamo? I'm pretty sure you'd choose the former. It may be a slightly better choice, but that does not mean you would want to live there.

    4. Charles Manning

      The NSA has got to be a law unto itself. Something like the old KGB which operated independently of the USSR govt.

      1. Slawek

        You are wrong in both cases.

        NSA did not violate any US laws.

        KGB never operated independently of government, and more correctly, Party control.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          @Slawek

          "NSA did not violate any US laws."

          Next: "SS doctors did not violate any german laws"

          Yeah, one can twist and turn, spin and obfuscate, lie and dissemble and plaster the Big Lie on every board so that anything can be justified "to the letter of the law". But so what? It's just another way of raw power abuse if done by those in charge and of whistling past the graveyard by the others.

          tl;dr: Retarded

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
            Big Brother

            Re: @Slawek

            In furtherance of which:

            The Supreme Court Logic That Could Destroy Privacy in America: It's dangerous for courts to continue adhering to Smith v. Maryland, a decision that was made before the advent of big data.

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Strong claims require strong evidence. Nothing that Snowden/Greenwald/Poitras et. al. have released remotely approaches evidence for this claim. Come back when the NSA operates a few dozen forced labor camps in central Alaska.

        The truth, depending on one's viewpoint, may be more scary or less. The NSA is an agency within the executive branch of the federal government under laws passed by the US Congress and signed by several Presidents. Its operations are reviewed by agency managers and Defense Department staff. Their legality is reviewed and subject ot approval by the Department of Justice. These operations are among the responsibilities of the Secretary of Defense and Attorney general, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate; and, of course, they ultimately are the President's responsibility. In addition, various aspects of the agency's operations are overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court operating independently of the executive and legislative branches.

        So, far from being a law unto itself, the NSA is carrying out a rather large national government program with a great many outside actors fully complicit. That's pretty bad if you think the entire national government is busily constructing a totalitarian regime. It is, on the other hand, quite reassuring if you think that the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary are composed of men and women who, on average, are not greatly different from the population mean in most ways.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          "It is, on the other hand, quite reassuring if you think that the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary are composed of men and women who, on average, are not greatly different from the population mean in most ways."

          Sorry, but I am hardly reassured to think that my privacy and security are being handled by people like that numbskull at the other end of my street.

    5. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      As an American I feel I have to point out that what ,in particular, the NSA and, in general, the Government does, while largely in our name, is certainly not on our behalf. If we really knew everything that was being pissed away the voting booths would be literally filled with vomit as folks would would no longer be able to hold their nose and chew it back as they do now.

      What it comes down to is goat herding which is a form of job security and it is the reason most things like this have to be done covertly. The basic paradigm is that when secrets get out someone gets thrown under the bus but it's ok because the bus and the ground below it is made of foam rubber. Politicians can't afford to have it known they signed off on all the stupid and illegal things the agencies do lest they get fired next election cycle so when it gets found out they go through the motions of wrist slapping and job shuffling. This gives the impression that the politicians have "done something" to fix the problem without real harm to the scapegoat and this keeps the goat in check with lips firmly sealed to the truth while taking the full weight of the consequences in a patriotic "did it for my country" dookie* dance knowing full well that the density of the bus is akin to aerogel. Usually the fourth estate will do the required bell clanging about how disgraced the goat is in their new job with a lobbyist, which often pays more than the one they lost, and that usually does the required damage control for the people who hand out things like press passes and invitations to special events like press conferences where we hoi polloi aren't allowed because we would ask the wrong questions.

      *That's the American English version of dookie and has nothing to do with Oz, Baptists or poker.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    WTF?

    Oh yeah?

    "You can't build a business around decrypting."

    Woah these grapes must be sour!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh yeah?

      Why ? He's right. There is no sustainable business model in decrypting private comms. It's illegal. You can do it for the govt. but you can only offer your services to one (they don't like to share) so how do you grow your business ? Answer. You can't.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh yeah?

        You wouldn't so much be decrypting private comms as recovering encrypted hard drives where the owner simply forgot the password (or didn't realize that using Windows EFS on a removable drive is a BAD THING). People would pay a LOT of money in some cases to recover data.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Oh yeah?

          WILL FACTORIZE LARGE NUMBERS FOR A MODERATE SUM. Quick results or money back. Discreteness guaranteed. Please call [NUMBER] to obtain one-time-pad for further communication.

      2. DropBear Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Oh yeah?

        Nonsense! Sure you can. "Are you a CryptoLocker victim too? Have no fear, we can help you! For just half of what THEY were asking...!"

  3. nematoad Silver badge

    Not all darkness

    A very nasty threat and one not to be taken lightly.

    It does seem as if the NSA, GCHQ and all the other "security" organisations really do see the rest of humanity as a threat and enemy.

    As a user of FLOSS software I am concerned but am not in despair. If we have learned anything from the rise of Gnu/Linux and all the other free software projects, it is that no organisation, no matter how large and well funded can compete with the free software world.

    The threat is however that governments use all their undoubted powers to stifle the efforts of those seeking to prevent the security apparatus from spying on everyone and everything.

    We will develop means to keep these characters at arms length, and it may be that ironically the NSA, GCHQ and others have back-handedly done us all a favour by spurring us to improve the security and robustness of our IT systems.

    1. elDog Silver badge

      Re: Not all darkness

      I sincerely hope you're right in your "develop a means to keep these characters at arms length", but I fear that they are already infiltrating every FOSS user group and are contributors to many projects that are central to open source platforms (think git, svn, make variants).

      It is extremely difficult to review every patch/change to an application/library. It is probably impossible if the spooox have also changed the underlying source code control systems to allow them to make modifications without detection.

      Paranoia is merited - trust me!

      1. dssf

        Re: Not all darkness

        I've been pondering this for years.

        Lately, it has come back to mind that between infiltration in the past and insinuation of the recent Snowden fallout, I suspect that this quantum encryption cracking is a red herring of sorts. It may be that the NSA and GCHQ and others want real-time access to applications downloads. If not already in play, I really think they will be doing MITM attacks on people's and organizations' downloads of binaries, patches, and templates, to make sure that even if the data is encrypted, there will be unblockable access to machines that are "always on" on the Intranet and Internet.

        Since it seems the routers, switches, and hard drives have been LONG compromised, it's a logica next step to ensure that apps are always targeted. I REALLY started thinking about this when first using AOL and other ISPs "installation disks". It really hit home that I began suspecting AT&T and Comcast of wanting keystroke access to (or, at the behest of the NSA and others, enabled access to) hard drives. This hit my mind way back in 1992/1993. And, to think those Lotus cc:Mail division software gurus told me I was crazy when I, as a lowly temp doing data entry, said NOBODY could ever crack a computer via a modem.

        When Comcast in 1999-2002 had me as a "customer", they must have been pissed that I refused to connect to their services via their setup disk. I made their tech set me up with HIS laptop, not mine, on one occasion, citing I used Linux and would NEVER voluntarily surf via windoze any more. On another occasion, I had to use one of my computers, but I bluntly told them that after configuring the router via their keystroking disc, I would reformat my computer.

        Nowadays, that trick obviously won't work -- WD, Hitachi, Samsung, and the slew of disk makers probably have signed or acquiesced globally to an unmitigable "expose to play" doctrine.

        And, to think that now Linux is compromised to a painful extent. And, to ponder all the USA-driven rheotoric about China invading privacy rights of people when in the background, the NSA has been doing it to the WORLD.

        Oh, don't let Android off the hook. Ponder how many of those free apps that might be agency sponsored or not, but which quietly compress and return to home every little tidbit of your mind jab into your pocketable devices.

        DMZ Earth: Galactic Comedy Central for ALL Spacefaering Primitive-Species-Monitoring Anthropologists.

    2. Don Mitchell

      Re: Not all darkness

      Ken Thompson proved that you can insert exploits into software without having it appear in the source code. It would be especially easy for open source software.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Not all darkness

        But didn't someone else design a cross-check system to help defend against Thompson's scenario? All you'd need is one known-safe compiler (still possible by using old or unusual hardware) and you could then vet the rest of them.

        1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

          Re: Not all darkness

          Some of us hope that our governments, in my case the UK gov, do actually have such facilities. But I would not bet on that: I have seen too many accountants and too few techies all over the computer industry.

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        No darkness at all in Future Perfect Great Games?

        Quite so, Don Mitchell. And IT presents Portals for Entry into Live Operational Virtual Environments with Command and Control of Future Derivative Play.

        Do you think GCHQ are into Sterling Intelligence Servering, rather than just the Monitoring and Mentoring of it.

        Is that work outsourced offshore/off base piste and provided on a simple need to know basis, by others facilitating actions via thought transference on everyone's behalf.

        And here be Global Operating Devices, and AI@ITsWork with C42 Quantum Communication Control Systems BetaTesting AERO Space Systems for Future Fabulous Fabless JOINT AdVentures Immaculately Tailored for Everywhere.

      3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Not all darkness

        Ken Thompson proved that you can insert exploits into software without having it appear in the source code. It would be especially easy for open source software.

        No. It is time to put that stuff to rest.

        Countering "Trusting Trust"

        It's more likely to have a Bug Of Consequence hidden in plain sight. Plausibly denibale if some takes the time to comb through the code.

  4. Charles Manning

    Quantum gravy

    Since quantum computing is in its infancy (or, more correctly, in its zygotic state) actually building a practical quantum computer is quite likely still a long way off.

    However there will be many companies willing to burn up billions of tax dollars having a go.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Quantum gravy

      I am nor so sure that it is "far off". The hard problem (i.e. quantum error correction) is in the box. IMHO, there is a good chance of seeing a few hundred entangled qbits happily doing their qbit stuff by the end of the decade, if not a few years earlier.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Quantum gravy

        Besides, what if THIS was a cover story to throw people off the idea the NSA ALREADY have the tech (as a black project) and are hiding it say in Utah and are ALREADY churning away? Remember, black projects can be that way because they are so far ahead of known tech that they can be game-changers (like a working stealth fighter).

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Quantum gravy

        there is a good chance of seeing a few hundred entangled qbits happily doing their qbit stuff by the end of the decade

        That'd be irrelevant to practical cryptanalysis. When they have several thousand qbits working reliably, then we'll have to start worrying about RSA key lengths.

  5. Peter Clarke 1
    Big Brother

    Who'll be using it

    It will be all right unless all this computing power falls in to the hands of people we can't trust.

    Oh, hang on a minute .........

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Who'll be using it

      But do you think you could do better if you were elected and then came under the pressure that all politicians face?

      Or do you just cop out and say that's not your job, it is for somebody else? That would be a poor attitude in a democracy where politics should be open to a wide range of people.

  6. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Meh

    I'd rather have quantum computing solving for encryption keys...

    Than all these vulnerabilities that are being inserted into IT by the NSA and its peers. At least with quantum computing we get some other benefits.

    Still, scary stuff ahead

  7. MrXavia

    I see all this publicity about NSA spying & Snowden's releases a good thing, it will help promote European Clouds, and private clouds.

    It will help funding for better encryption research, maybe even get quantum encryption solved! Although I can't see how they can do end to end quantum encryption...

    it may even push the public into realising that the web is not private... unlikely but possible...

    And maybe Theresa May might realise that a snoopers charter is NOT acceptable, although I doubt she has the intelligence to realise that...

  8. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    WTF?

    Yawn.

    Oh, so that was today's Snowdope scare story? Sorry, I nearly fell asleep whilst the sheeple desperately tried to inject some paranoia into yet another very obvious story.

    And who benefits from all this decryption research? Well, just about all of us, actually. Where do you think the computing industry would have been without the money thrown at it by the military and governments? What do you think the Bombe was built for, calculating weather patterns? Like countless other inventions that got massively accelerated by military research money (radar, radio, aeronautics, satellite tech, even weather science and medicine - all advanced by military research), the benefits of the US (and other governments) ploughing money into such research is that it will fund civilian development too. In twenty years time, when quantum computers will probably be in data centres of many companies and universities, it will be because of the cutting edge being funded by such military research grants.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yawn.

      > What do you think the Bombe was built for, calculating weather patterns?

      Erm, well saving us from the Nazis in a time of world war. Are you trying to draw some parallel here?

      Exactly what war is the US waging (BTW, intangible "terrorists" don't count any more than "commies" used to)?

      Besides, if NASA was doing this, I think we would all be a lot less worried. You can bet your bottom dollar that any research of this kind sponsored by the NSA will not make it out officially to the business community.

      A lot of our key technology was developed by necessity in desperate times. The only desperation the US should be addressing at the moment is their economic strife and (what is it now) 17 trillion in debt.

      1. dssf

        Re: Yawn.

        EXACTLY!

        The US multi-multi-trillion dollar debt (owned by China) is the USA's real number one enemy.

        House of cards?

    2. Don Mitchell

      An Ellsberg or a Rosenberg?

      It is obvious that the NSA would investigate quantum computing, since code breaking is a major part of their charter and history. I'm sure the British and Russians are doing the same.

      This latest leak is not a case of "whistleblowing". Snowden has revealed activities that bring up important 4th amendment issues, but he also indiscriminately leaked secret information about legal and sensitive activities of the NSA. Thus many of my American friends have questions about his character.

      I consider Daniel Ellsberg to be a hero, while I consider Julius Rosenberg to be a traitor. Snowden is probably at neither end of that range, but time will tell where he falls on it.

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Yawn.

      Yeah Matt, thank you for statist tax-and-spend, war-is-a-force-that-gives-us-tech message.

      Sorry, I nearly fell asleep whilst the sheeple desperately tried to inject some paranoia into yet another very obvious story.

      Not enough to post random drivel, apparently. Don't you have the latest HP failure to defend?

  9. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    @ skelband

    Speaking personally, and for no one BUT myself, I have to admit to a certain amount of ambivalence re: the NSA.

    Do I think that what they are doing is always right? No.

    Do I think that what they are doing is always wrong? No.

    Would I rather that I be able to do what I want, when and where I want, without having someone looking over my shoulder to make sure that it is "approved"? Hell, yes.

    Do I believe that other international actors are working on the same projects and towards the same capabilities that the NSA is? Yes, certainly.

    Do I think that SOMEONE is going to accomplish those goals eventually? Yes, certainly.

    Do I believe that, e.g., the Russian and Chinese security agencies' visible actions against openness online are all that they are ACTUALLY doing? No, certainly not.

    Do the Snowden leaks indicate that the U.S. is the only international actor trying to suborn the 'net for its own purposes? Almost certainly not. They may only indicate an inherent weakness in using contract workers, or that the U.S. is less efficient at keeping its electronic warfare "troops" under its thumb. It may simply mean that government employees in THIS country believe that they can get away with revealing secrets embarrassing to their employer without getting an intimate introduction to an umbrella-load of Polonium.

    Would I rather that, if SOMEONE is going to attain the same goals that the NSA is seeking, it be someone who is (at least nominally) looking out for my interests and (nominally) under the control of people that I (nominally) have some voice in choosing, rather than someone who is somewhere that I have zero chance of getting to and who has ABSOLUTELY no accountability to me? In all honesty, I have to say yes.

    Do I believe that whomever gets the technology first will hold a permanent monopoly on it? Not really -- Whatever international player gets it first will have a very temporary advantage, but for that short window, I would rather that the advantage lay with a more-or-less democratic state than with a more-or-less autocratic one since I firmly believe that, in the long run, the inherent stresses in a more-or-less democratic state keep it from doing as much damage as quickly as a more-or-less autocratic one.

    I don't know if that clears anything up for you, but there it is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: @ skelband

      Interesting response, but:

      > Would I rather that, if SOMEONE is going to attain the same goals that the NSA is seeking, it be someone who is (at least nominally) looking out for my interests and (nominally) under the control of people that I (nominally) have some voice in choosing, rather than someone who is somewhere that I have zero chance of getting to and who has ABSOLUTELY no accountability to me? In all honesty, I have to say yes.

      I rather suspect that, at least in the case of the NSA, you don't. That the majority of your elected representatives don't know what the NSA is up to makes me even less likely to think that the US public have any more influence over the NSA than they do.

      In any case, Internet encryption is a race that nobody can ultimately win. Million bit encryption is only limited by the CPU power required to implement it, and we will see it in the near future.

      DARPA and NASA are great agencies out of which a metric shitload of publicly funded technology has originated. That the NSA is looking for this stuff and funding it themselves, I seriously doubt that anyone else will legitimately get a look in any time soon, so in what way will these advances help the American people and their economy long term?

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      Re: @ Mike Moyle

      So TL:DR version of what you're saying.

      I'd rather have all my privacy taken away from me by my government that someone else's.

      Or for the really condensed version.

      America Uber Alles.

      Let me suggest another view.

      No one Uber Alles.

      1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: @ Mike Moyle

        "Or for the really condensed version.

        America Uber Alles."

        So noice to hear from you again, Mr. Godwin how have you been lately?

        "Let me suggest another view.

        No one Uber Alles."

        Good plan.

        Now make it happen.

        Oh, you can't...?

        Well then, as a GOAL, I strongly approve of it, but as an immediate strategy -- until you manage to convince a lot of autocratic international actors who believe that EVERYONE should live by their political/ideological/religious system to live and let live -- it sucks donkey balls. As the man said; the lion may lie down with the lamb, but the smart money says that only the lion is likely to get up again.

        Come back when everyone starts acting like lambs and we'll discuss your proposal again.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

    And in the worst case dead.

    Who are they really "protecting" by this lust for total survaillance?

    Freedom? As long as you don't question anything or deviate from the party line.

    Democracy? Doesn't seem like it.

    Privacy? F**k no.

    Surveillance without cause --> Imprisonment without trial.

    1. Slawek

      Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

      I'd rather be alive.

      "Surveillance without cause --> Imprisonment without trial" ???

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

        > I'd rather be alive.

        Until it affects you directly of course.

        So many people couldn't give a damn until it comes knocking on your door.

        So, for example, according to surveillance records, you attended a foreign language class the same time as a suspected terrorist? Could be a coincidence, but best be safe eh?

        Get strip searched through customs? Sorry, your personal profile roughly fit someone that we were "interested" in. It's all great though, so that you can feel safe.

        You get arrested for threatening behaviour? A surveillance device picked up your "private" conversation about some guy you hate at work. But think of the uproar if you popped your colleague and they did nothing! (You think I'm joking? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Joke_Trial, not private, but not too far off the mark)

        Total surveillance comes with a price.

        Be sure that you and your fellow citizens are happy to pay it.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

          But now I ask, what if your opposition has the potential for an act of such devastating magnitude that it can in itself threaten a nation, if not human civilization or the entire world? And note that this is NOT entirely theoretical. One powerful atomic explosion about 50 miles over South Dakota would probably create an EM pulse that knocks out the entire US, lots of Canada, and probably a chunk of Mexico as well, suddenly and near-completely. Even military tech would be hard-pressed to handle it (you CAN overwhelm a Faraday cage with a strong enough burst). And this is just one scenario.

          So the USA, indeed just about every industrialized nation faces significant potential for an EXISTENTIAL threat, and in an existential threat, basically anything goes.

          Perhaps I can put it like this: If it was down to a choice between global slavery and global destruction, with no third option (including abstaining), which would it be?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

            > Perhaps I can put it like this: If it was down to a choice between global slavery and global destruction, with no third option (including abstaining), which would it be?

            Back here in the real world, we're asking is it really likely?

            Who would do such a thing and why?

            We lived through the cold war in constant fear of such a thing.

            Once upon a time our military watched other country's military.

            These days, everyone is the enemy.

            Like I said, countries need to protect themselves, but the paranoia exhibited by the NSA and GCHQ at the moment is scarier than the unlikely alternative.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

              "Back here in the real world, we're asking is it really likely?"

              More so BECAUSE the Cold War has ended and its tech has started to scatter.

              "Who would do such a thing and why?"

              Someone who believes the world or humanity is unworthy. someone who wishes for religious reasons to spur on Armageddon or the like, there are a few justifications.

              "We lived through the cold war in constant fear of such a thing."

              Thankfully, both sides of the war were rational players. That's what made things like Mutual Assured Destruction work: a rational player balks at a suicide play. Trouble is, with the tech scattering, the odds are increasing of it falling into the hands of an IRRATIONAL player: one who would view MAD as a WINNING scenario.

              "These days, everyone is the enemy."

              Pretty much. And since Oklahoma City proved terror can come from WITHIN (McVeigh and company IIRC were all natural Americans), we're just about in DTA mode.

              "Like I said, countries need to protect themselves, but the paranoia exhibited by the NSA and GCHQ at the moment is scarier than the unlikely alternative."

              I don't know. A nuke outta nowhere, a superplague, or a vast EMP blast may just be SO scary we can't imagine it: the THOUGHT is scarier than mundane slavery because the reality would make DEATH seem a better alternative. And that's not even going into divine cataclysm like a big asteroid impact.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

                How do you define the likelihood of this actually coming about then?

                Is any price worth paying to prevent this theoretical outcome?

                Where is the line for you? That's a serious question.

                The trouble is, you could justify practically anything because something *could* happen.

                Why let your daughter out of the house on her own? There *are* rapists out there and she could be a victim. Better to be certain than sorry. I know a few dusky skinned gentlemen in the far east who think the same.

                As things stand, in the US, you're statistically much more likely to be killed by a pressure cooker.

                You're much more likely to be killed by a kick from a donkey. Ban donkeys?

                And anyway, could the NSA guarantee that what they are doing would prevent such a catastrophe. It didn't prevent 9/11 despite there being evidence that something was going to be going down. It didn't stop the pressure cooker bombers doing that they did. It came right out of the blue. If I decided to commit an atrocity in the middle of some street, it wouldn't be at all difficult and the government wouldn't have a clue. The numerous people popping off kids in schools that seems to be the thing to do these days: people say they never suspected.

                The reason that these events are so rare is that the vast, vast majority of people wouldn't dare to perpetrate such a thing. It goes against all human instinct to do so. Those that are lunatic enough to do such a thing and have the means should be well within the view of any decent security service without the resources of the NSA.

                At the end of the day, in a free society, we live with that possibility all the time. The comfort is that the planet is big, we are many, and the insane and capable are few.

              2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
                FAIL

                Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

                "I don't know. A nuke outta nowhere, a superplague, or a vast EMP blast may just be SO scary we can't imagine it: the THOUGHT is scarier than mundane slavery because the reality would make DEATH seem a better alternative. And that's not even going into divine cataclysm like a big asteroid impact."

                You're either a troll or one of those people barricades themselves in their house and tapes up all the doors to stop "germs" getting in.

                At least Woody Allen was neurotic in an amusing way.

          2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            WTF?

            Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

            "One powerful atomic explosion about 50 miles over South Dakota would probably create an EM pulse that knocks out the entire US, lots of Canada, and probably a chunk of Mexico as well, suddenly and near-completely."

            Because (of course) a) no intelligence agency would spot someone trying to buy a black market nuke?

            or B) That someone was buying up the ingredients for a)A basement nuke and b)A basement launcher for it.

            All these fantasies require a person or group who is undetectable by any other means but is stupid enough to communicate electronically.

            When you articulate the scenario that total 24/7/365 lifetime surveillance is meant to counter it just sounds dumb. IRL Osama Bin Laden ducked the entire US spy system for 10 years by not using electronic comms.

            Real US terrorists (I'm presuming you're a Merkin) turn out to be white males who use engine oil and ammonium nitrate and pressure cookers and (surprise surprise) all that NSA wire tapping either did not spot them or was not bothered about them.

            Or how about the 33 mass shootings in 30 years in the US, Nothing more than a few handguns with long magazines, a few (probably still semi auto, as the nut job lacked the skill to convert to full auto) "assault rifles" add a school or a packed fast food shop and hey presto instant fame.

            Amazing what a "lone gunman" can do is it not?

            The threat the system supposedly safeguards you from is bulls**t.

            The real threats you are likely to face it does nothing to protect you from.

            You're scared. Buy a bullet resistant vest, don't smoke and wear sun screen. All will do you more good in the long run.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

              Don't think in terms of individual threats but in terms of collective threats. It's like with plane crashes. Sure, they're rare, but when they go wrong, they tend to go wrong BADLY. Now scale this up to an entire country. It may be rare, but if it does, it's pretty much "Game Over." Like I said, the enabling tech is becoming easier to acquire since controls are looser now, and since we are entering an age of information, you can't put the genie back in the bottle anymore. Furthermore, it may not be a basement nuke like "The Sum of All Fears" but perhaps the subversion/hacking of an existing device: probably one already in the US to pretty much cut the time to react below the practical threshold.

              Or are you basically saying that such an event, should it be conceived, would be closer to an asteroid impact: inevitable, in which case we better start praying?

          3. Charles Manning

            EMP is way overblown

            " One powerful atomic explosion about 50 miles over South Dakota would probably create an EM pulse that knocks out the entire US, lots of Canada, and probably a chunk of Mexico as well... "

            Apart from in apocalyptic discussion forumns where the tin foil is plenty, but the physics is little, EMPs just don't work that way. Building and delivering a device needed to cause widespread destruction is beyond the ability of any nation, let alone a rougue state.

            The only EMPs to get worried about are solar electromagnetic storms and no amount of NSA spying is going to stop those.

            1. Suricou Raven

              Re: EMP is way overblown

              If you've got a nuke, it'd be a lot easier to just blow up a city. No need for an elaborate missile system then: You just slap on a FedEx label for Washington and a time or GPS trigger.

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: skelband Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

          ".....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Joke_Trial....." You should actually read your own link, the story has SFA to do with the NSA/GCHQ or eavesdropping, but a lot to do with the idiocy of the typical moron that uses Twatter.

          1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

            Re: skelband Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

            So deeply retarded a response I can't even be bothered to downvote it.

            Your standards are dropping, MB.

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: Boring Bernie Re: skelband Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be...."

              " So deeply retarded a response I can't even be bothered to downvote it....." I note you are also unable to counter the simple fact the tale had nothing to do with the NSA or GCHQ. More of a case of you being unable to counter it.

              ".....Your standards are dropping, MB." I know, I should have dealt on the original poster's stupidity, paranoia and complete lack of common sense for longer, but it really didn't seem kind to pick on the village idiot. I'll leave that to you, the pair of you seem equally ill-equipped to try debating with others.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: skelband Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

            > You should actually read your own link, the story has SFA to do with the NSA/GCHQ or eavesdropping, but a lot to do with the idiocy of the typical moron that uses Twatter.

            Jesus Matt, you're being particularly thick today.

            The reference is about an agency taking what someone said out of context, in a semi-private setting and it having very severe repercussions for them. No-one in their right mind would have taken anything that guy said seriously. However, "authorities" thinking that they are acting in the public interest, felt that they have to take the hyperbolic reaction. That's exactly what the NSA and GCHQ are doing here and is the very real danger of having everything you say or write being scrutinised by people that have no friggin' common sense.

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
              FAIL

              Re: skelband Re: skelband Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

              "....The reference is about an agency taking what someone said out of context, in a semi-private setting and it having very severe repercussions for them....." So the actions of all employees of all other organisations are to be used as a guide to how the secret ervices will act? How stupid an idea! So, by your farcial example, if a teacher decides some kid in the playground made an inappropriate remark bordering on racism then that means that MI6 are going to kill anyone that uses the word "nigger"? Your desperation to find a case is blinding you to your own silliness - are you a Twatter user?

              "..... That's exactly what the NSA and GCHQ are doing here...." No they are not, and it is very clear you know this otherwise you would have tried to find a real case of it happening instead of trying to pass off a completely UNRELATED incident that was nothing to do with the security services or eavesdropping. Complete and total fail!

        3. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Anyone remember "Freedom is the right to be uncomfortable."

          Perhaps this is a bit in need of specifics.

          "So, for example, according to surveillance records, you attended a foreign language class the same time as a suspected terrorist? Could be a coincidence, but best be safe eh?"

          - Has this happened in the US, or UK in the last couple of decades? Examples are needed, not of those who might have been questioned and dismissed, but of those charged or imprisoned wrongly.

          "Get strip searched through customs? Sorry, your personal profile roughly fit someone that we were "interested" in. It's all great though, so that you can feel safe."

          - This has absolutely no connection to communication surveillance and is at most tenuously related to surveillance of any kind.

          "You get arrested for threatening behaviour? A surveillance device picked up your "private" conversation about some guy you hate at work. But think of the uproar if you popped your colleague and they did nothing! (You think I'm joking? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Joke_Trial, not private, but not too far off the mark)"

          - The case mentioned appears to have nothing much to do with systematic surveillance, but rather with gross official overreaction to a pretty stupid tweet, much along the lines of middle school children arrested for pointing a gun-finger at a classmate.

          How many pedophiles or porn purveyors have been found out by bulk communications scans? I have not heard of any.

          I suggest that from what we have seen, the Authorities are quite able on their own sometimes to be petty, thickheaded, and overreacting. Any marginal contribution from the "surveillance state" - including mail cover recording and street cameras as well as telephone and internet metadata, is likely to be so small as to be unnoticable - in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as other countries generally thought to have democratic regimes.

  11. Rottenham

    When an encryption technology is finally developed that is completely NSA-proof, it will be ruled illegal.

  12. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Facepalm

    OMFG, spy agency does spying

    Seriously, part of the NSA's job is to be at least 5 years ahead of everyone else in computing and crypto. For example, they had public key encryption first. I'd be surprised if they *weren't* doing quantum computer research, and I'd say they were lying.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: OMFG, spy agency does spying

      No.

      Intelligence officers gather intelligence about the intentions and capabilities of organizations or countries that are actual threats to their country.

      Does that include you? Are you a threat to the security of the United States?

      Probably not. But the NSA does not care if you are any more.

      These people are gathering information on everyone.

      For no other reason than because they can

      This no longer makes them an intelligence agency.

      This makes them a group of state sponsored peeping toms.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: OMFG, spy agency does spying

        And in a world where ANYONE can be a threat?

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Happy

          Re: OMFG, spy agency does spying

          "And in a world where ANYONE can be a threat?"

          And of course that includes you.

          As you're reading this an under strength blood vessel in your brain has just ruptured randomly and you are in fact dying.

          Still alive? Never mind there's always the rest of your life for me to be right. Better lie in bed and not breath or exert yourself too much and it should be all right.

          Or

          In the words of Mary Schaefer, former NASA flight engineer who watched several test pilots die over her career.

          "Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don't have the balls to live in the real world."

          So either kill yourself or grow some and live with it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. quantum decryption

    I had a few ideas this morning, anyone interested?

    Uses off the shelf commercially available hardware to exploit quantum effects, and should work with

    less than £100 of parts yet be able to break RSA-2048 in about a week.

    :-)

    text "Quantum" to 07839796663

    1. phil dude
      Coat

      Re: Re. quantum decryption

      If I had coffee I would have sprayed it all over the screen!!!

      I went to the D-wave talk at SC13, and I think they have at least *a* solution....

      Either that, or an extremely good fridge (10mK - WTF?).

      P.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re. quantum decryption

        I have it sort of working in theory, but am reluctant to discuss the exact mechanism online for obvious reasons.

        The trick is using a piece of equipment that has only just become available in the last year, and in a way the manufacturers never intended combined with some very ingenious coding and hardware to exploit quantum entanglement within the system.

        Its actually hard to make it work without this, in fact you'd likely need to go through a hundred chips to find the one with the correct number of interacting cells in the right orientation and inter-cell gap for it to work at all.

        Interested?

        1. Vic

          Re: Re. quantum decryption

          The trick is using a piece of equipment that has only just become available in the last year, and in a way the manufacturers never intended combined with some very ingenious coding and hardware to exploit quantum entanglement within the system.

          You mean a really *hot* cup of tea?

          Vic.

          1. andre 2

            Re: Re. quantum decryption

            Heh, very funny.

            I decided that enough is enough, this is time to write a paper.

            AFK for now, should have it done in a week or so but hopefully the NSA/etc won't classify my work.

  14. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    OTN?

    I think it is quite legitimate and proper for NSA and other similar agencies to try and develop the best decryption engine they can. Arguably they wouldn't be doing their jobs if they weren't trying. Ditto for the best encryption engine.

    I have my doubts though that "owning the (entire) net", whatever that means, is necessary for - or even a positive contribution towards - achieving the noble goal of improving the security of the agencies' countries. I suspect that the S/N of the entire net is so low that slurping everything is not likely to help in the "war against terror" or getting an edge over geostrategic or regional rivals. The experience from 9/11 to Boston bombings supports that: lots of releant information - hardly encrypted - was slurped even then, and a fat lot of good it did. The proposed "cure" (and its horrible side effects) is much worse than the "disease" (whose seriousness is MUCH overrated).

    I would intuitively suspect any NSA (GCHQ, whatever) project that purports to "own the net" to be one of the following:

    1. a poorly thought through national security concept;

    2. an endeavour with a purpose very distinct from national security;

    3. a very, very unfortunate misnomer (one can hope, eh?).

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: OTN?

      I vote for #1, combined with #3, there being essentially no significant evidence for #2 despite the loud wailing.

  15. chris lively

    This "leak" is pure BS.

    Sorry, but the US gov just spent well over $600 million on a broken website. I seriously doubt the NSA would only pony up a measly $78 million for the wet dream of spy computers, even just for continued research in its development. Either it's missing a zero or it's completely made up bullcrap someone was mocking up.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: This "leak" is pure BS.

      And they spent tons of money and came up with a WORKING stealth fighter AND kept it under wraps for at least two decades. They also put men (even a couple vehicles) on the moon, something no other nation has duplicated for well over 40 years. Can work both ways.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: This "leak" is pure BS.

        They also put men (even a couple vehicles) on the moon, something no other nation has duplicated for well over 40 years

        Something no other nation has bothered to duplicate. That's rather different from "has tried to duplicate, and failed".

        You'll notice several other nations duplicated US efforts they valued rather more highly than putting men on the moon, such as building nuclear weapons. Lack of duplication means little in and of itself.

        Similarly, I see little reason to believe the stealth fighter was much more than an excuse to throw lots of money at aerospace contractors (with, no doubt, kickbacks to the appropriate products) and puff up military chests. What has that stealth fighter done for US citizenry as a whole?

        If the NSA is trying to build a quantum computer, I suspect it's largely because someone thought it would be nifty, and they were able to talk the money people into giving them a budget.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Chris Lively Re: This "leak" is pure BS.

      "..... I seriously doubt the NSA would only pony up a measly $78 million for the wet dream of spy computers, even just for continued research in its development. Either it's missing a zero or it's completely made up bullcrap someone was mocking up." I suspect it is what is known as a Chinese design project, that is to use limited funds to target known researchers and steal their work, thus short-cutting your own development cycle and costs. The nicer and PR version might be the budget is to find and recruit said researchers but I wouldn't put "liberating" foreign research beyond either the NSA or GCHQ. Then the budget amount makes more sense.

  16. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

    None of this...

    ...requires any deep "conspiracy theory"

    During the Cold War, spying was big business. A lot of money was spent by nations in the interests of "national security". Whole entities came into being as a result; GCHQ, MI6, NSA, etc etc, along with a vast industry to provide and support those services.

    With the end of the Cold War, those financial interests were staring at The Wall and seeing their end in sight. With the events of 9/11 it was easy for those interests to create lobbying to convince a weak and ill-informed government that the threat was much larger and more cohesive than it appeared. Systems, technologies and methods were sold on the basis of that threat.

    As time passed more systems were created, threats were expounded upon by NGOs, lobbyists and public groups that had all bought into the expertly created "null scenario" and the market expanded. New investment opportunities appeared and new business was created to take advantage. In an era of financial instability ANY new business was good business, even if it were founded upon complete nonsense. What was important was that money could be made.

    Not only was it a "good day to bury bad news" but also a good day to turn a profit. Create a new tech, lobby the government to buy the tech, convince everyone that they need the tech to keep them safe, get the gov. to buy new, better tech and keep up the tales of imminent destruction and the need for security, pay for "research" to support that market, develop new tech..... repeat ad nauseum.

    This is not without precedent, take a look at the drug industries and see how they "remap" pharmaceuticals every year to expand potential markets without the need to create new drugs. They just create new "conditions" that old drugs, it just so happens, treat.

    No conspiracy required, no evil cabal plotting world domination, just day to day business-as-usual. Everything is exactly as it always is and all is driven the Great Good that is Profit.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Boring Bernie Re: None of this...

      ".....Whole entities came into being as a result; GCHQ, MI6, NSA...." Nothing exposes your complete lack of knowledge of the matter than - well, all your posts, really. They all grew out of existing departments that long pre-date the Cold War - the UK's Secret Service Bureau was rechristened MI6 in 1916; the Goverment Code and Cyphers School was rechristened GCHQ in 1946, before the Cold War had started (historians set the start of the Cold War as 1947 at the earliest); and the origins of the NSA go right back to 1917 and the States' MI8. If you want to be taken seriously you really need to start by at least getting the basics right.

      ".....With the end of the Cold War, those financial interests were staring at The Wall and seeing their end in sight....." Yeah, except they had all already been largely repurposed to fighting terrorism before the end of the Cold War. In the case of MI6 and GCHQ, they spent an awful lot of time hunting terrorists like the IRA and their friends in the Middle East (such as Ghaddafiduck with his terror training camps in Libya; the PLO who shared intelligence and training with the IRA as well as trying to attack British interests in the region such as the bases in Cyprus; ETA who trained with the IRA, shared arms and provided safe houses for each other; and Cuba and the other left-wing Latin American countries supplying the IRA and other assorted terror groups with training, weapons and drugs that they used to fund their terror campaigns). The GCHQ and MI6 also spent time in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties intercepting arms shipments to Rhodesia and South Africa when they were apartheid states, but it seems the sheep are very prone to forgetting the "good deeds" of either the secret services or the conventional forces in enforcing those politically-correct embargoes. In fact the big losers in the post-Cold War budgets were the CONVENTIONAL forces, not the secret services.

      "......even if it were founded upon complete nonsense.....". So 9/11 was complete nonsense, was it? More like you made another complete fail. Once again it seems you have a lot of remedial reading to do.

      1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

        Re: Boring Bernie None of this...

        It is highly naive to believe that our "current situation" is driven by any need other than profit.

        But I expect nothing less from you MB.

  17. TrishaD

    So... what actually happens if NSA do develop a decryption engine that's as capable as people seem to assume it would be?

    The decryption of any cryptographic key .... hmmm.

    So, at what point to we cease to trust internet banking? Or cease to trust that credit card data used online is in any way protected?

    It's one thing to 'own' the internet but another to find that the internet you now own isnt fit for purpose anymore and nobody uses it.

    Are we really going to trust everyone employed by or contracted to the NSA not to misuse the information they'd then have access to?

    1. TopOnePercent Silver badge

      RE TrishD

      "So... what actually happens if NSA do develop a decryption engine that's as capable as people seem to assume it would be?"

      "It's one thing to 'own' the internet but another to find that the internet you now own isnt fit for purpose anymore and nobody uses it.

      Are we really going to trust everyone employed by or contracted to the NSA not to misuse the information they'd then have access to?"

      The whole time I've been using the internet (since Gopher was a primary tool and Mosaic 1.0 was a new toy) I've assumed the NSA/GCHQ had access to everything I've ever done. Every email, every web page, every ftp file.

      It really wouldn't be a revelation to me to discover this was definitively the case. Agencies tasked with the role of spying often, well, spy. My delusions of privacy would be no more so because it was the KGB that rooted my data rather than "my" side of the cold war.

      I don't think its right, and I'm not even wholly sure its properly legal, but it is something I expected when I first used the internet and as far as revelations go, it wouldn't be enough to stop me using it. TOR is no barrier to the NSA, so you pretty much have to accept it happens if you want to use the internet.

  18. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Rubbish

    The (in)famous Shor's algorithm, originally posited in 1994 as a method of using quantum factorization, would be able to break most modern encryption systems.

    OK, Ian, I'll bite. How would you use Shor's to "break" AES? Or any other symmetric cipher in widespread commercial use? Or, indeed, any cipher other than RSA, or some cipher you specifically concoct around large integer products?

    Shor's is an algorithm for factoring large composite integers. It's not a magic wand that you wave at encrypted data. This sort of claim is the kind of crap we get from TV dramas; it should not be appearing on the Reg.

    And even Shor's takes polynomial time in the length of the number being factored, and more importantly takes a number of qbits proportional to the logarithm (base 2) of the number. You're looking at around 2N qbits to crack N-bit RSA. Scaling up anything like any of the known QC technologies to that size would be phenomenally expensive. Using longer keys (or just switching to a different asymmetric cipher) is cheap. The hypothetical QC spooks1 can't win that arms race.

    In any case this sort of thing boils down to forging a mile-long crowbar to pry open a huge padlock. It's a lot simpler to find the guy with the key and steal it from him, by stratagem or force. Quantum cryptanalysis is largely a matter of an unworkable solution to an unnecessary problem.

    1Do they exist or don't they? Only Snowden's cat knows for sure.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Rubbish

      You forget the data store in Utah that will hold historical data as well. Even if you switch cryptosystems, there's still all the OLD stuff that used the old systems. Maybe they can be used as an inroad to cryptoanalyze the new stuff, maybe they'll just use it as evidence to nail the spies and so on. Point is, it's not just PRESENT data that's vulnerable, but PAST data, too.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Black helicopters

    This is pretty far out there, seems that there are better algorithms that are N times faster than Shor's.

    In fact D-wave's 512 qubit system can be used to design a better QPU, which is what they are doing at the moment.

    Think custom chips to break codes, and nothing else in a similar way to Bitcoin miner ASICs.

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