Microsoft helped the NSA bypass encryption, new Snowden leak reveals

Microsoft worked hand-in-hand with the United States government in order to let federal investigators bypass encryption mechanisms meant to protect the privacy of millions of users, Edward Snowden told the Guardian.

According to an article published on Thursday by the British
paper, internal National Security Agency memos show that
Microsoft actually helped the federal government find a way to
decrypt messages sent over select platforms, including the Web chat, the Hotmail email service and the Skype
messaging product.

The Guardian wrote that Snowden, the 30-year-old former systems
administrator for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, provided
the paper with files detailing a sophisticated relationship
between America’s intelligence sector and Silicon Valley.

The documents, claim the Guardian, are marked top-secret and come
in the wake of other high-profile disclosures that have been
attributed to Snowden since he first started collaborating with
the paper for articles published beginning June 6. The United
States government has since indicted Snowden under the Espionage
Act, and he has requested asylum from no fewer than 20 foreign

Thursday’s article is authored by Glenn Greenwald and Laura
Poitras, two journalists who interviewed Snowden at length before
he publically revealed himself to be the source of the NSA leaks.
They are joined by co-authors Ewen MacAskill, Spencer Ackerman
and Dominic Rushe, who wrote that the classified documents reveal
not just the degree in which Microsoft worked with the feds, but
also detail the Internet surveillance program known as PRISM
previously disclosed by the whistleblower, as well as tech
companies’ true relationship with the government as brokered
through back-door deals.

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions
between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration
,” the
journalists wrote. “All the major tech firms are lobbying the
government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and
nature of their cooperation with the NSA to meet their customers’
privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to
distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork
given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by
legal compulsion.

In the case of Microsoft, however, it appears as if the Bill
Gates-founded tech company went out of its way to assist federal

Among the discoveries made by the latest Snowden leaks, Guardian
journalists say that Microsoft specifically aided the NSA in
circumventing encrypted chat messages sent over the
portal before the product was even launched to the public.

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the
interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft’s portal
from the moment the company began testing the service in July
last year
,” they wrote. “Within five months, the documents
explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that
allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on

According to internal documents cited by the journalists,
Microsoft “developed a surveillance capability” that was
launched “to deal” with the feds’ concerns that they’d be
unable to wiretap encrypted communications conducted over the Web
in real time.

These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec
,” the memo claims, two months before the
portal was officially launched.

In a tweet, Greenwald wrote that “the ‘document’ for the
Microsoft story is an internal, ongoing NSA bulletin over 3
,” and that the Guardian “quoted all relevant
.” The document is not included in the article.

Elsewhere in the report, the Guardian revealed that Microsoft
worked with intelligence agencies in order to let administrators
of the PRISM data collection program easily access user
intelligence submitted through its cloud storage service SkyDrive
and the Skype messaging program.

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
,” they wrote.

That allegation comes as a stark contrast to claims made
previously by Skype in which they swore to protect the privacy of
its users. It doesn’t come as a terrible surprise, however, and
RT reported previously that earlier documentation supplied by
Snowden showed that the government possesses the ability to
listen in or watch Skype chats “when one end of the call is a
conventional telephone and for any combination of ‘audio, video,
chat and file transfers’ when Skype users connect by computer

Earlier, RT acknowledged that Microsoft obtained a patent last
summer that provides for “legal intercept” technology that allows
for agents to “silently copy communication transmitted via the
communication session
” without asking for user
authorization. In recent weeks, however, Microsoft has
attacked the government over its secretive spy powers and even
asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court if they could
be more transparent in discussing the details of FISA requests
compiling tech companies for data.

We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish
continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community
understand and debate these issues
,” Microsoft Vice President
John Frank wrote last month.

In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about
their inability to perform wiretaps
,” Chris Soghoian of the
American Civil Liberties Union told the Guardian. “It’s hard
to square Microsoft’s secret collaboration with the NSA with its
high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google

Earlier this week, Yahoo requested that the FISA court unseal
documents in their own FISA battle. That ruling in 2008 compelled
Yahoo, and later other Silicon Valley entities, to supply the
government with user data without requiring a warrant.

Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these
communications to be collected without an individual warrant if
the NSA operative has a 51 percent belief that the target is not
a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time
,” the Guardian
reporters wrote. “Targeting US citizens does require an
individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans’
communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign
national located overseas

During a press conference this past march, FBI general counsel
Andrew Weissman said that federal investigators plan on being
able to wiretap any real-time Internet conversation by the end of

You do have laws that say you need to keep things for a
certain amount of time, but in the cyber realm you can have
companies that keep things for five minutes
,” he said.
You can imagine totally legitimate reasons for that, but you
can also imagine how enticing that ability is for people who are
up to no good because the evidence comes and it goes

Republished with permission from: RT