In a new leak published by the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica, Edward Snowden revealed new secret programs by the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ to decrypt programs designed to keep information private online. In response to NSA’s Bullrun and GCHQ’s Edgehill, Google said it has accelerated efforts to build new encryption software that's impenetrable to the government agencies.
Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., first announced it would begin a new encryption project in June after Snowden leaked information about the NSA’s secret PRISM program.
Snowden’s latest leaks showing the NSA and GCHQ using supercomputers to defeat encryption with “brute force” have inspired Google to speed up the process. It now expects its encryption project to be done months ahead of the original completion date, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s an arms race,” Eric Grosse, the vice president of security engineering at Google, said. “We regard these government agencies as among the most skilled players in the game.”
New encryption won’t block national security requests from the NSA, but it could make the kind of surveillance outlined in Snowden’s leaks about Bullrun and Edgehill more difficult. It'll also do more to counter the growing threat of hackers, including groups like Anonymous and the Syrian Electronic Army and governments like Russia, China and Israel.
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Encryption is used to create trust and confidence among online consumers, and it protects the privacy of emails, banking and medical records. Without keys to unlock entire encryption programs, government surveillance agencies like the NSA can't collect wholesale data from citizens but could do targeted hacks of suspected criminals or terrorist threats.
Google hasn't provided details on its new encryption efforts but did say it would be “end-to-end,” meaning that all servers and fiber-optic lines involved in delivering information will be encrypted.
Security experts and privacy advocates have applauded Google in the past for its aggressive efforts to combat snooping governments and protect users, both with software and in courts. Since Snowden leaked about PRISM, Google has been leading the charge for legal rights to disclose information about government requests with users.
“This is a just a point of personal honor,” Grosse said. “It will not happen here.”