NSA Overcomes Fiber-Optic and Encryption
jya at pipeline.com
Mon Aug 9 20:19:35 PDT 2004
Excerpt below from a Baltimore Sun article of August 8, 2004.
Some of it could be true, but.
Director of NSA shifts to new path
By Scott Shane
Sun National Staff
August 8, 2004
Given the dire assessments a few years ago, it is notable that Hayden
says the communications revolution has on the whole been a plus, not a
minus, for the NSA.
The NSA director declines to elaborate. But interviews with outside
experts suggest that the agency has managed to overcome the challenges
posed by fiber-optic cable and encryption.
"My opinion is that at this point, those are little more than a speed
bump to NSA," says Steve Uhrig, president of SWS Security, a Harford
County firm that builds eavesdropping and counter-eavesdropping systems
for U.S. and foreign police agencies. "They have a virtually unlimited
budget, and they can put amazing resources to work on a problem."
Several sources who regularly speak with NSA officials say they believe
Uhrig is right. Although they do not know the details, they say the
agency has almost certainly managed to tap fiber cables on a large-scale
basis, making access to the information inside less of a problem than its
The NSA has also found a silver lining to the use of encrypted e-mail:
Even if a particular message cannot be read, the very use of encryption
can flag it for NSA's attention. By tracking the relatively few Internet
users in a certain country or region who take such security measures, NSA
analysts might be able to sketch a picture of a terrorist network.
Information 'in motion'
And by focusing their electronic tricks on messages as they are first
typed on a computer or when they are read on the other end - what
security experts call "information at rest" - NSA technical experts might
be able to bypass otherwise-unbreakable encryption used when the
information is "in motion."
Meanwhile, the popularity of e-mail and particularly of cell phones has
worked to the NSA's advantage in the battle against terrorism.
The NSA's computers can track and sort huge volumes of e-mail far more
easily than they can manage telephone intercepts, because text is
consistently represented in digital code.
And cell phones - as handy for terrorist plotters as for everyone else -
provide not just an eavesdropping target but also a way to physically
track the user.
Uhrig, who has installed cellular intercept systems in several countries,
says that as cell phones have proliferated, the "cells" served by a tower
or other antenna have correspondingly grown smaller. "A big hotel may
have a cell for every other floor. Every big office building is its own
cell," he says.
By following a switched-on cell phone as it shifts from cell to cell,
"you can watch the person move," Uhrig says. "You can tell the direction
he's moving. If he's moving slow, he's walking. If he's moving fast, he's
in a car. The tracking is sometimes of much more interest than the
contents of a call."
More information about the cypherpunks-legacy