The NSA's new spy center will see everything

Imagine a massive supercomputer in the desert, watched around the clock by armed guards, capable of intercepting and decrypting virtually every piece of information in the world. Sounds like science fiction doesn't it? Well, according to Wired, the NSA is in the process of building just such a place, and they've made leaps and bounds of progress at breaking the standard AES encryption algorithm that keeps your emails and other private information secure.

This new surveillance center is being constructed in the Utah desert, near a town called Bluffdale. When it's finished, you'll be able to fit five US Capitols inside, and most of that space will be occupied by supercomputers capable of storing more data than you can even imagine (you can imagine a lot, can't you?). Your private emails, Google searches, receipts, travel information - pretty much ever scrap of data generated - will be stored here, while sophisticated software sifts through it in search of anything remotely suspicious.

Basically, it's the realization of the Total Information Awareness program that Congress struck down way back in 2003 (we're not making that logo (seen below) up, by the way). So, then, how is it that the NSA has managed to carry on the project for so long? According to William Binney, the former chief of the NSA's Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, they just don't give a damn.

Binney spent nearly 40 years of his life breaking codes and finding new ways to collect information, but the NSA's increasingly invasive methods were just too much in the end. When the NSA began warrantless wiretapping in 2001, Binney called it quits. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says, "But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way."

Here's the scary part: Binney says that pretty much all Internet traffic is already subjected to deep packet inspection as it passes through existing surveillance centers, then analyzed by software looking for any red flags. This software is manufactured by a company called Narus, now a subsidy of Boeing, and it analyzes the data it collects against a backdrop of locations, names, numbers, keywords, and phrases. Anything remotely suspicious gets sent off for further examination and perpetual storage by the NSA.

Despite the efforts of Binney and others to put stricter limits and more legal guidance on what information is stored and limited, it's only gotten worse, and the NSA is storing most of the data that passes through, 'just in case.' After all, who knows what kind of goodies could be hiding behind encryption algorithms like AES? Now for the really scary part: they're working on that, too.

The AES (Advanced Encryption System) algorithm, available in progressively stronger 128 bit, 192 bit, and 256 bit variants, has been really hard to crack for even the most sophisticated computers. It's been speculated that the universe would end before a computer could try every possible code variant. By collecting more and more information, however, the NSA has a good chance of figuring out the algorithm's patterns.

The Bluffdale center will contribute to this effort, in addition to holding on to data that one day might prove accessible and useful. It's not all bad; chances are that there are some important secrets, potentially life saving secrets, hiding in some deeply encrypted communications somewhere. On the other hand, the potential abuses involved in storing all of that information and being able to crack these algorithms is pretty staggering.

As Binney told Wired, holding his forefinger dangerously close to his thumb, “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.” There are a lot of arguments that could go here; is it legal? Is it ethical? Is it moral? But more importantly, is it worth the risk of becoming the very kind of power we're trying to hold at bay? That's for you to decide, before it's too late.

Image via Wired

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41 Comments

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What citizen group keeps an eye on NSA,FBI,CIA,to make sure our rights are not violated,none.Who is passing laws to insure our freedom,none,who signed NDAA to lock us up in camps w/out a lawyer and due proses,the US government.

Guess what this possessed me to do? Search for an even stronger type of encryption! All I could find was this thing called Swordfish, anyone know what it is?

thatguyandrew1992 said,
How is this allowed to happen??

probably because it's easy for them to avoid the courts etc and just deny it all or claim something like "it's a national security matter" or make it look like a legit thing when behind the scenes they are using it for stuff that's not legal.

so many ways i suspect for them to avoid legal issues.

So to get to the top of the list, send an email that consists of the words "Obama" and "bomb" repeated over and over? ;-)

Biggest crimes were done by shaking hands between politicians and business leaders in private conversations, so this facility will be used to control and spy on average taxpayer only.

sdgreen said,
Excellent, we now have a federally funded backup system! So much for Clouds!

Just was about to say that. Hopefully Windows 8 will get an app so you can easily use those backups like you can use skydrive.

Notice that pesky all seeing eye again...

Seems to have a remarkable coincidence of always showing up when it comes to personally privacy issues & governments. Now I think alot of conspiracy theories are rabbit holes going no where but into paranoia la la land...but those darn eerie symbols just won't go away.

The overall power of this system is astounding. Go read the article linked and you will find that this is going to be a massive system.

I had a conversation with a fellow IT worker in a different division (I work for the county govt), and he deals with the local Sheriff's department systems. He very briefly stated that you may not think 'Big Brother is watching', but "Big Brother is watching more than you can imagine." This seems to support what he said and then beyond that.

Skyhawker said,
...and THEN I see this article.... http://www.neowin.net/news/lif...wer-to-personal-data-mining

Close

lol it basically is your brain if you put tons of your life (pics, google searches, emails, etc.) like the info ONTO your computer...but that for me personally is why I DONT put tons of my life crap on my computer, so little spys out there (now includes stupid nsa) arent gathering my life as well...F them! Your choice really...

Also the encryption cracking, they doing this for what exactly? So this encryption info gets out and then even the government cant have it? Good going Saves the hackers some troubles im sure.

I don't really have a problem with this...I like where technology is going.

If something can be used for evil purposes, should we make it illegal to use it at all?

Something that I have wanted from a young age, to be able to download my brain into a computer, for my own personal use. To be able to have a device (similar to an iPhone with Siri) that I can ask, for example, to pull information about my past.

I want it to be able to do these things:
*Have all memories readily accessible
*"Do you like Asparagus?" "Hmmm, 'brain', have I had asparagus before?
...How long ago? and did I like it?"
*"How old was I when I learnt the word
...'pneumonultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokinoiosis'?"
*etc...

Now, this 'device' would most likely be hacked soon after release or used in other nefarious purposes, would probably get accessed by unnamed authorities, and any number of other things.
But I still want it.

Really. I want this so bad....

Skyhawker said,
I don't really have a problem with this...I like where technology is going.

If something can be used for evil purposes, should we make it illegal to use it at all?

Something that I have wanted from a young age, to be able to download my brain into a computer, for my own personal use. To be able to have a device (similar to an iPhone with Siri) that I can ask, for example, to pull information about my past.

I want it to be able to do these things:
*Have all memories readily accessible
*"Do you like Asparagus?" "Hmmm, 'brain', have I had asparagus before?
...How long ago? and did I like it?"
*"How old was I when I learnt the word
...'pneumonultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokinoiosis'?"
*etc...

Now, this 'device' would most likely be hacked soon after release or used in other nefarious purposes, would probably get accessed by unnamed authorities, and any number of other things.
But I still want it.

Really. I want this so bad....

.
What in the hell are you going on about?! Absolute gibberish you're talking!

Who cares anymore. Lock me up. You have to feed me and provide me with some basic medical coverage. **** it. I could use the vacation.

AmazingRando said,
Who cares anymore. Lock me up. You have to feed me and provide me with some basic medical coverage. **** it. I could use the vacation.

With no internet...

How do you kill one which has no life ?

... the US government really isnt gonna stop with this whole WE OWN THE WORLD WIDE WEB crap.

ShareShiz said,
How do you kill one which has no life ?

... the US government really isnt gonna stop with this whole WE OWN THE WORLD crap.

fixed that for ya.

ShareShiz said,
How do you kill one which has no life ?

... the US government really isnt gonna stop with this whole WE OWN THE WORLD WIDE WEB crap.

The Roman Empire last a thousand of years; I do not think we will match it........

The government is already tapping the social networks for info and the isps. I find this hard to believe that they have their own networks setup. I mean why buy the cow when you get the milk for free.

fmanchu said,
The government is already tapping the social networks for info and the isps. I find this hard to believe that they have their own networks setup. I mean why buy the cow when you get the milk for free.

Simple: when you retire you will be hired by the companies which received contracts from you; in the new position you will be able to have access to whomever replaced you and set up the new wave of puppets playing with our money......

Surely they don't have the right to? I'm not American, I'm not a terror suspect. Surely it'll be up to MI5 to search through my private emails?

McKay said,
Surely they don't have the right to? I'm not American, I'm not a terror suspect. Surely it'll be up to MI5 to search through my private emails?
Better make sure you are not using an american provider then (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc..).

So, let me get this straight. The US government is aspiring to do everything that google and facebook do already?

fmanchu said,
So, let me get this straight. The US government is aspiring to do everything that google and facebook do already?
The difference being that using Google or Facebook is voluntary.