GCHQ data snooping has “destroyed trust in British tech”
GCHQ’s online surveillance has destroyed trust in British technology companies and irrevocably damaged the nation’s information security industry, according to a cryptography expert.
GCHQ director Sir Ian Lobban said during an Intelligence and Security Committee hearing yesterday that the Edward Snowden leaks had made the agency’s efforts to de-anonymise and break encryption used by terrorists and paedophiles “far, far weaker”.
But Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge, told PC Pro that encryption experts were trying to make the internet safer, but GCHQ’s mission was “exactly the opposite”. He said: “We have no more in common with them [GCHQ] than the pope has with a brothel keeper.”
We have no more in common with them than the pope has with a brothel keeper
He believes that now the truth is out on the agency’s snooping, no one will trust British technology companies over fears of GCHQ-ordained backdoors in their products, just as Huawei has been shunned in the US.
“Nobody is going to trust a UK business,” Anderson added. “You would be mad to buy security products in Britain, everyone knows it… [GCHQ’s surveillance] destroys the credibility of Britain’s information security industry.”
His comments came after web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee said GCHQ efforts to break encryption were “appalling and foolish”.
Leaks to The Guardian indicated both GCHQ and its US partner, the National Security Agency, have been carrying out intensive encryption cracking projects. One document suggested they were able to “leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners”, whilst agents had attempted to introduce backdoors into cryptographic standards.
GCHQ was also said to have been “responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry”.
Britain’s various spy agencies believe their work has protected citizens, not made them more vulnerable to attack.
During the ISC hearing – or as Anderson described it, “a ludicrous, theatrical performance from the last century” – Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, and Sir John Sawers, chief of MI6, claimed the Snowden revelations had been damaging for national security.
“The alerting of targets and adversaries to our capabilities means that it becomes more difficult to acquire the intelligence that this country needs,” Sawers said.