[FoRK] Revealed: how Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Thu Jul 11 12:40:47 PDT 2013


Revealed: how Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism

• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch

• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls

• Company says it is legally compelled to comply

Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and
Dominic Rushe	guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 July 2013 18.53 BST	

Skype logo

Skype worked with intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect
video and audio conversations. Photograph: Patrick Sinkel/AP

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow
users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National
Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to
top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation
between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three
years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism
program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns
that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com,
including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access
via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250
million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand"
potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create
email aliases;

• Skype, which was bought by Microsoft in October 2011, worked with
intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect video of
conversations as well as audio;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA,
with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley
and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the
government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of
their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers' privacy concerns.
Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of
collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process
is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft said: "When we upgrade or update products we aren't
absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands." The
company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data "only in
response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for
requests about specific accounts or identifiers".

In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have "direct access"
through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies,
including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications
to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51%
belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time.
Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able
to collect Americans' communications without a warrant if the target is a
foreign national located overseas.

Since Prism's existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies
listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the
program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors
into their systems.

Microsoft's latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its
commitment to privacy with the slogan: "Your privacy is our priority."

Similarly, Skype's privacy policy states: "Skype is committed to respecting
your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and
communications content."

But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation
between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.

The latest documents come from the NSA's Special Source Operations (SSO)
division, described by Snowden as the "crown jewel" of the agency. It is
responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through
corporate partnerships such as Prism.

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of
encrypted chats on Microsoft's Outlook.com portal from the moment the company
began testing the service in July last year.

Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up
with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com

A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: "MS [Microsoft], working
with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal" with the issue.
"These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012."

Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the
Outlook.com portal.

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to
Outlook email. "For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com
emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to

Microsoft's co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8
April 2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI –
which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon
Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its
cloud storage service SkyDrive.

The document describes how this access "means that analysts will no longer
have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many
analysts may not have known about".

The NSA explained that "this new capability will result in a much more
complete and timely collection response". It continued: "This success is the
result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking
and collection solution established."

A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. "The FBI Data
Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand
an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email
aliases, which may affect our tasking processes."

The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with
Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663
million global users.

One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has
roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio
portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but
without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete
'picture'," it says.

Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program
in February 2011.

According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype
into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the
company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.

The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and
collection began on 6 February. "Feedback indicated that a collected Skype
call was very clear and the metadata looked complete," the document stated,
praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. "Collaborative
teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the
Prism system."

ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise
many Skype users. "In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users
about their inability to perform wiretaps," he said. "It's hard to square
Microsoft's secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts
to compete on privacy with Google."

The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the
FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently
expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of
Prism, using software that "enables our partners to see which selectors
[search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism".

The document continues: "The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism
collection of any selector…" As a result, the author notes: "these two
activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!"

In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:

    We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire
company to government demands for customer information for both law
enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to
our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we
provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

    Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we
reject them if we believe they aren't valid. Third, we only ever comply with
orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to
the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as
the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.

    Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some
circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in
response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects
of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That's why
we've argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand
and debate these important issues.

In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National
Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:

    The articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company's
efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US operates
its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful monitoring by the
courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence. Not all countries
have equivalent oversight requirements to protect civil liberties and

They added: "In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into
consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world,
while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries
in which they operate."

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