The New U.S. Wiretapping Law and Security
Last week, Congress gave President Bush new wiretapping powers. I was going to write an essay on the security implications of this, but Susan Landau beat me to it:
To avoid wiretapping every communication, NSA will need to build massive automatic surveillance capabilities into telephone switches. Here things get tricky: Once such infrastructure is in place, others could use it to intercept communications.
Grant the NSA what it wants, and within 10 years the United States will be vulnerable to attacks from hackers across the globe, as well as the militaries of China, Russia and other nations.
Such threats are not theoretical. For almost a year beginning in April 2004, more than 100 phones belonging to members of the Greek government, including the prime minister and ministers of defense, foreign affairs, justice and public order, were spied on with wiretapping software that was misused. Exactly who placed the software and who did the listening remain unknown. But they were able to use software that was supposed to be used only with legal permission.
U.S. communications technology is fragile and easily penetrated. While advanced, it is not decades ahead of that of our friends or our rivals. Compounding the issue is a key facet of modern systems design: Intercept capabilities are likely to be managed remotely, and vulnerabilities are as likely to be global as local. In simplifying wiretapping for U.S. intelligence, we provide a target for foreign intelligence agencies and possibly rogue hackers. Break into one service, and you get broad access to U.S. communications.
More about the Greek wiretapping scandal. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent book by Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau on the subject: Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption.