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12 Sep, 2013 14:36

NSA spying ‘weakens US security’

The NSA was no good at decrypting online communications, so they used their authority to spoil encryption technologies to get easy access to communications by people they wanted to spy on, including US citizens, Professor Mathew Green told RT.

A cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University, Professor Mathew Green, had his blog about NSA spying techniques taken down by the university a short while ago.

RT:Professor, before we talk about what happened to your blog, your brief reaction to this revelation of data-sharing with Israel. What do you think Americans will make of the fact that information about them is going to Israel?

Mathew Green: I think what we’re learning is that no matter what we think about the story, we cannot get a fix on it, and the story keeps changing. This is probably the most upsetting part: we don’t know who our data is being shared, and who is spying on whom at this point.

RT:You are a cryptographer, what exactly do you do and what was it about your post that prompted Johns Hopkins University to react? What did you write?

MG: I wrote a post about these new revelations that came out last week about the NSA breaking encryption, breaking cryptography. That’s my research area, so one of the things I do is write a blog for technical people, but also for journalists and people who are not cryptographers themselves. I try to explain these complicated terms and try to explain what it all means.

So I tried to take a pass at this story and explain what it meant that the NSA was breaking this technology, and I put it on a blog post that a lot of people read.

Professor Mathew Green

NSA had hard time breaking encryptions

RT:So what is the NSA doing? What is this clandestine initiative?

MG: I think what we learnt is that the NSA has a hard time breaking encryptions, so what they’ve done is they actually tried to take the products that perform encryptions and make them worse, make it weaker so it is easier for them to break that encryption.

RT:What sort of areas you’re talking about? People using smartphones, e-mails, even medical records, anything?

MG: Everything that you’ve just mentioned. Smartphones are specifically mentioned, your web-browsing, when you’re using your Gmail account for example, the connections that are supposed to be encrypted, emails going across the web – all of those things.

NSA is willing to make US security weaker

RT:This really doesn’t come as a big surprise. We knew that the NSA was spying on people. So is this a major revelation, or is it something we should really accept as it happens every day?

MG: What we learnt is that the NSA is willing to make the US security a little bit weaker. Because remember, it is not just non-US citizens using these products, it’s Americans, too.

And they want, in a sense, to put our entire industry credibility on the line to access those communications of whomever they want to listen to.

RT:When you posted that blog, the university reacted very quickly. Did they explain why, or do you think they were forced to act?

MG: I don’t know. The internet tends to make a big deal of these things. Somebody somewhere made a decision that there might be a classified material on this blog. The instinct was to shut the blog down rather than investigate that. I think that was a mistake. I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly where it came from, and I hope it never happens again.

Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

RT:But you will carry on blogging and posting material you think is perfectly legitimate and should be read by people?

MG: Absolutely, absolutely.

'Never, ever use the Internet'

RT:What about the idea that people think that this whole initiative is to fight terrorism, is to protect national and personal security? Don’t we have to accept that surveillance has to happen these days?

MG: Well, I understand that there has been debate ahead of us on about “how much spying [is acceptable]”. There is a range of anywhere from 1 per cent spying to 100 percent spying, and I think we have to figure out what the right balance is. What we’re learning is that the American public is not comfortable about what we’re learning about that balance.

RT:As an expert cryptographer, can you stop yourself being hacked?

MG: Buy a computer, move down to the basement and never, ever use the Internet. That’s the best advice I can give you.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.