updated 07:44 pm EDT, Thu September 5, 2013
NSA has obtained encryption keys both legally, and through extra-legal means
More information provided by intelligence agency document leaker Edward Snowden points to the insecurity of commonly used Internet encryption protocols. Reports circulating today suggest that the NSA can completely decrypt the HTTPS and SSL encryption protocols used in most email clients and other secured Internet services, such as online banking, and e-commerce.
Articles published by The Guardian and The New York Times detail the NSA's efforts to break the encryption throughout the 21st century, initially relying on massive server farms, and inserting people within the development industry to shape the code so that the encryption was easier to break. As early as 2007, the NSA involved itself in the National Institute of Standards and Technology efforts to quantify encryption standards for commercial and governmental use.
A memo from the UK surveillance agency, GCHQ, noted in 2010 that "for the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies. Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable" following successes in decryption and advances in processing power, making translation of secured data essentially routine.
The newly-leaked documents do give the technology companies who vociferously denied involvement some validation -- with encryption keys obtained either through brute force, or by more nefarious (and possibly illegal) means. The New York Times claims that intelligence officials asked it to not publish information about the NSA capabilities, for fear that it may prompt switches to protocols that the agency may not have access to.