New Threat Model Army


“The NSA has turned the internet into a giant surveillance platform.” Security guru Bruce Schneier (pictured) did not pull his punches when he addressed the 1,200 engineers gathered for the meeting of Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in Vancouver last week. But when it came to the question of what should be done about it, he and the other participants in a panel discussion had less to offer.

Mr Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Centre on Internet and Society, is one of the few people who had seen most if not all the NSA documents downloaded by Edward Snowden. Only a few have been made public so far, with the most recent revelation being the stealth tapping of Google’s internal networks.

“There is a lot more to come,” Mr Schneier warned. “But there is a lot we are never going to know.” Neither details of the encryption standards said to have been manipulated, nor the names of the vendors were in the documents, he admitted.

In some respects, Mr Schneier argued, it is all the internet’s fault—and that of the engineers who built it. The possibility of surveillance is baked into the network. Data, he contended, are a by-product of the information society. All computer processes produce data, and these are being “increasingly stored and increasingly searched”. The result is “wholesale surveillance, surveillance backwards in time, the loss of ephemeral conversation, systems that never forget.”

And, he added, it is not that the NSA woke up one morning and said: “Let’s spy on everybody.” Instead, they looked around and said: “Wow, corporations are spying on everybody, let’s get ourselves a copy.”

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.