NSA successfully cracked encryption: reports

Newly revealed documents reportedly show the agency has collected 'vast amounts' of user data believed to be secretive

The National Security Agency spends $250 million per year to break through encryption barriers.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Leaks by former security contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency has cracked into Internet communications previously believed to be protected by the use of encryption, news reports said Thursday.

The New York Times, Pro Publica and The Guardian, working in partnership on the story, reported that documents obtained from Snowden show that the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) successfully broke through encryption barriers in 2010.

"Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable," the reports said, citing one of the GCHQ documents.

The documents reportedly show that the NSA's anti-encryption methods are closely guarded, and analysts are told, "Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods," The Guardian reported.

The leaked documents also reveal that -- aside from using supercomputers and court orders -- the NSA would spend as much as $250 million per year to "covertly influence" tech companies to create loopholes in their products so the U.S. agency can easily access user information.

The latest revelations follow months of ongoing leaks from Snowden, who is now in Russia on a temporary asylum visa, exposing the NSA's efforts to collect data on civilians in the U.S. and abroad by tapping phone calls and Internet activity.

The NSA, for its part, told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement that "it should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries' use of encryption. Throughout history, nations have used encryption to protect their secrets, and today terrorists, cybercriminals, human traffickers and others also use code to hide their activities. Our intelligence community would not be doing its job if we did not try to counter that."

The agency said that its deciphering of encrypted communications "is not a secret, and is not news," and that "anything that yesterday's disclosures add to the ongoing public debate is outweighed by the road map they give to our adversaries about the specific techniques we are using to try to intercept their communications in our attempts to keep America and our allies safe."  

Timeline of Edward Snowden's revelations

Al Jazeera's in-depth look back at a year of NSA leaks by the former government contractor who fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong to Russia after releasing loads of documents on surveillance in the U.S. and around the world. Information below is compiled from outlets that first reported the data.

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