So much for secrets: Hacking of NSA code shows a wide open world

The report that hackers may have obtained the code to the National Security Agency’s own key hacking tools and put it on the internet is alarming, to say the least.

At this point it is not clear if the hackers, either working for another government, or people opposed to U.S. government hacking, or just deeply mischievous, have penetrated the NSA’s most recent cache of tools, or whether America’s own electronic spying agency is still ahead of them. Whoever is behind the action, it is of deep concern, for a variety of reasons.

It is also important to recall that the United States was among the first to use hacking of key systems as an international tool, notably used against the Iranians in sabotaging part of their nuclear fuel refining procedure in 2010. Our and the Israelis’ attack was called Stuxnet.

It is necessary to go back to the beginning of the computerization of our society, and to efforts to encrypt communications transmitted by that means. On the one hand computers have enabled us to become — at least superficially — much more efficient. On the other hand, our dependence on that form of communications has opened up a massive vulnerability, so large as to be almost unimaginable.

Let’s start with the idea that the NSA’s own hacking code may now be in the public domain. Many Americans are thoroughly convinced, based on revelations by other hackers, that the NSA quite freely hacks the electronic communications of many Americans. If the NSA’s hacked library is now in the hands of who knows how many others, that means that the electronic communications of many Americans are now open to we can only imagine whom.

The recent “scandals” of hacked Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, and the serious probability that many of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s out-of-governmental-channel emails are now on the market, have been alarming. But they become peanuts compared to the loss of privacy of however many Americans and others the NSA may have been bugging, in the name of national security or whatever.

Now, if we want to think of some really serious concerns sponsored by the idea that even the NSA’s hacking codes have been compromised, let’s contemplate the potential of an enemy, or even a madman, hacking America’s electrical grid, or its water supply controls, or its airport tower computers.

All we can say is, first, that the NSA really needs to stay ahead of these people in its technology. Second, the pieces of America’s vital infrastructure need to have gold-plated protection and backup. Third, no American should imagine for one second that what he or she thinks are private communications are, in fact, private anymore.


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