Feeds

Museum unscrambles secret agency's past

But recent activity still matter of national security, natch

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Inside the NSA A few of us got through the metal detectors before the National Security Agency (NSA) realised we were in the wrong place. We had arrived, expunged of all electronic devices from mobile phones to cameras, at the Visitors' Centre, a security outpost for visiting security personnel, instead of the National Cryptologic Museum 370 metres away by eagle. Oops.

There was a time when the very existence of the National Security Agency was completely secret. Many of the sort of people who are interested in it (such as this crowd from the annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference) are, therefore, somewhat surprised by the idea that it has a cryptologic museum.

Approximately 50,000 people a year find their way to Fort Meade, where the museum and NSA's headquarters are located. The curators will tell you openly that the museum's creation in an abandoned hotel in 1993 was a public relations exercise. The Cold War had ended, and although cryptology has been used in American wars all the way back to George Washington, between wars the effort was generally closed down. So the NSA had to answer: why should the nation keep funding it?

You would think that if anyone was likely to say "we shouldn't" it would be this group of gearheads and privacy wonks. Jostling with the NSA tour for pride of place on the programme was a panel on wiretapping featuring James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace, the 1982 exposé of the NSA. The NSA hasn't really forgiven him yet; mentioning his name at the museum draws a waspish response. David Kahn, whose 1967 book The Codebreakers drew a government suit when it was published, however, is now a scholar working there.

The curators seem refreshingly open, at least in the sense that they voice opinions they disassociate from the NSA. Still, the last 40 years of increasingly controversial activity is omitted. For national security reasons, of course. No one argues about wiretapping in World War II or even Korea; it's today's warrantless wiretapping that's controversial. So there is no mention of Bush, the class action suit brought on behalf of AT&T customers, or the revelations by AT&T employee Mark Klein that the NSA has been cheerfully and illegally wiretapping US citizens' domestic phone calls. It's a sign of how far the American government monolith has depressed people's free spirits that even this group does not bring up the subject.

When this museum opened it was also the height of the crypto wars, and cryptography was the hottest topic at this conference. Two government efforts made it so. One: continuing to promote the International Traffic in Arms regulations, which restricted the export of strong cryptography, slowing its adoption to protect, for example, ecommerce transactions. Two: backing a government standard known as the Clipper Chip, which would have included encryption in devices such as telephones and modems, but at the price of storing an escrowed key with the government. ITAR was ultimately defeated by the demands of ecommerce; Clipper Chip by the cracking work of Matt Blaze. The museum has a display of secure telephones, but mentions neither the Clipper Chip nor the ITAR battles.

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers
They're not emails, they're business records, says court
Plug and PREY: Hackers reprogram USB drives to silently infect PCs
BadUSB instructs gadget chips to inject key-presses, redirect net traffic and more
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?