My Take

Spy agencies' criminality breathtaking

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 2:47am

"There seems to be no limit to the violations to their hard-won liberties that Americans will put up with in the catch-all name of counterterror." Author John le Carre, commenting on Edward Snowden's whistle-blowing.

According to Snowden's revelations, US and British spy agencies have broken the most commonly used systems and standards of internet encryption.

The US National Security Agency does so by imposing weakened protocols on international encryption standards and, most revealing of all, demanding that US software and hardware companies leave "back doors" and create other vulnerabilities to their products.

Now we know why the products of some of the world's largest tech firms are always full of bugs. Some bugs were no doubt the result of carelessness, cost-cutting and pressure of deadlines. But now we have proof that others were deliberately planted.

In their zest and lawlessness, the spy agencies are opening other people's e-mails, bank accounts, medical records and essentially any kind of online transactions, while innocent users think their data is encrypted.

They are undermining the very integrity of internet commerce. Or, in the words of one critic, they are attacking the internet itself.

The stunning hypocrisy is that American politicians and security officials have repeatedly thwarted attempts by Chinese tech firms, such as Huawei, to enter the US market because of their supposed security risks. Well, it takes a mass murderer to know the thinking of a run-of-the-mill criminal.

It's now clear that having achieved military dominance in sea, land and air, the US is doing the same in cyberspace.

We can still remember how the CIA vaccination ruse used to track down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden led to a wave of kidnapping and murders of health workers across Pakistan.

In a similar way, the decade-old war by the US in - or rather on - cyberspace has severely compromised global data security and privacy. It has inadvertently encouraged a generation of cybercriminals and hackers to target and exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems worldwide. But given the criminality of the spy agencies, some hackers look more like heroes - like Snowden.