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Whether a person is conducting online banking, Internet shopping or making a phone call, almost every Internet connection today is encrypted in some way.
The entire realm of cloud computing -- that is of outsourcing computing tasks to data centers somewhere else, possibly even on the other side of the globe -- relies heavily on cryptographic security systems.
US and British intelligence agencies undertake every effort imaginable to crack all types of encrypted Internet communication. The good news: New Snowden documents show that some forms of encryption still cause problems for the NSA.
When Christmas approaches, the spies of the Five Eyes intelligence services can look forward to a break from the arduous daily work of spying.
An NSA presentation for a conference that took place that year lists the encryption programs the Americans failed to crack.
In the process, the NSA cryptologists divided their targets into five levels corresponding to the degree of the difficulty of the attack and the outcome, ranging from "trivial" to "catastrophic." Monitoring a document's path through the Internet is classified as "trivial." Recording Facebook chats is considered a "minor" task, while the level of difficulty involved in decrypting emails sent through Moscow-based Internet service provider "mail.ru" is considered "moderate." Still, all three of those classifications don't appear to pose any significant problems for the NSA.
There are a number of reasons for this: Some believe encryption is too complicated to use.
The presentation states that, "for the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies," and "vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable." Decryption, it turns out, works retroactively - once a system is broken, the agencies can look back in time in their databases and read stuff they could not read before.
In 2013, the NSA had a budget of more than billion.
According to the US intelligence budget for 2013, the money allocated for the NSA department called Cryptanalysis and Exploitation Services (CES) alone was .3 million.
"Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on," Snowden said in June 2013, after fleeing to Hong Kong.
The digitization of society in the past several decades has been accompanied by the broad deployment of cryptography, which is no longer the exclusive realm of secret agents.