Saturday, July 13, 2013

Microsoft Aiding Government Spooks

Trey Smith

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:
  • Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new portal;
  • The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on, 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 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".
~from Revealed: How Microsoft Handed the NSA Access to Encrypted Messages by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and Dominic Rushe ~
So much for Microsoft's big ad campaign in which they boast, "Your privacy is our priority"! It turns out that your privacy isn't all that important to them.

There are many things I could write about the newest revelations from The Guardian, but what amazes me is that NO ONE from Microsoft leaked ANY of this information. The folks at Microsoft would have us believe that they were unwilling partners and only went along with these nefarious programs because they were compelled to do so by law. Even if that is true -- I find that claim extremely dubious -- it boggles my mind that there wasn't at least one Microsoft employee with a conscience who might have leaked even a smidgen of what was really going on.

There is another aspect to this growing story that I haven't seen much reporting on and I hope The Guardian or some other publication addresses: The money angle. Whenever we find the government and corporations in bed together, we always find that the latter benefits financially from the illicit relationship. Since, in this instance, Microsoft was working hand-in-hand with the FBI, how much taxpayer funds do they regularly receive to betray the privacy of their customers?

If anyone is interested, you don't have to fall prey to Microsoft. You can switch to an easy-to-use operating system like the open source Linux Mint.

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