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Microsoft provided encrypted messages key and Skype calls access to NSA

by Pierluigi Paganini on July 13th, 2013
Microsoft NSA

The guardian issued new top secret documents gathered by Edward Snowden demonstrating the intense collaboration between Microsoft and US government.

Edward Snowden has issued new top secret documents demonstrating the intense collaboration between Microsoft and US government, in particular the whistleblower revealed the support received by the NSA that obtained by the company the access to encrypted messages into its products. Microsoft designed specifically backdoor into Outlook.com, Skype, and SkyDrive to allow government agency to spy on online communications.

Key Findings revealed by the  documents that have been made public by The Guardian are:

  • Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
  • The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
  • The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
  • Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
  • 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;
  • Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.

PRISM Microsoft supported NSA

Microsoft over the last years has assisted US law enforcement and intelligence agencies providing encrypted messages key to access to user’s email, web chat and data.

“The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft’s Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year. Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: “MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal” with the issue. “These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012.” Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.”

Microsoft has always remarked its interest in user’s privacy and highlighting the featured designed in its products for wiretapping communications.

Your privacy is our priority.”  was the slogan used during the last marketing campaign by Microsoft.

Immediate the reply of Microsoft that defended its operating sustaining that the company provided support limited to orders related to specific accounts:

only ever complies with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks…

“To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product,” the company said in a statement to ABC News. “We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.”

The situation is not surprising and is very discouraging, PRISM revealed a network of companies that provided full access to users data and communication and what is serious is that they denied to be part of the surveillance program.

The revelation made by Snowden have brought to light on two government units involved in the surveillance activities, the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, the spearhead of the agency, responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism and the The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team working with Microsoft for spying activities on email.

The documents disclosed by Edward Snowden also highlighted a close collaboration between FBI and NSA, a  newsletter dated 3 August 2012 describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

Edward Snowden with his revelations had a disruptive effect and certainly something has changed in the trust between U.S. Institutions and citizens.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Surveillance, Microsoft)

 

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