The chilling effect: Snowden, the NSA, and IT security

The chilling effect: Snowden, the NSA, and IT security

Summary: Former NSA technologist Edward Snowden rocked the IT world in 2013 when he leaked classified documents revealing the agency's digital surveillance programs. Here are the three biggest impacts.


When we look back at 2013 a decade from now, the one technology story that's likely to have the biggest long-term impact is the Edward Snowden revelations.

While there were major password breaches at Adobe, Evernote, and Twitter as well as the debacle, nothing rocked the IT world more than the 200,000 classified documents that Snowden leaked to the press, uncovering the NSA's startling digital surveillance programs that reach more broadly across the internet than even many of the most extreme conspiracy theorists would have feared.

While the U.S. government defends the program as court-supervised and a powerful tool that has thwarted terrorist attacks and protected citizens, there's no doubt that the Snowden revelations have had a chilling effect on the technology world.

Here are the three biggest impacts: 

  1. Organizations are re-thinking how to effectively encrypt their most sensitive data
  2. International organizations are looking at ways to do less business with U.S. companies, since the NSA has direct backdoors into many of them.
  3. The brakes are being put on cloud computing by some organizations, as they consider whether they want their data so easily accessible to surveillance agencies.

 As one IT architect said, "The USA's global surveillance efforts have done more to damage cloud deployments than any amount of FUD."

To dig deeper on this topic, see the links below. Then, join the discussion in the comments.



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This article was originally published on TechRepublic as Understanding Snowden's impact on IT... in 2 minutes.

Topics: IT Security in the Snowden Era, CXO, Cloud, Security

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  • Snowden / NSA / CNN

    The number of people that support snowden is staggering. Just compare the average blog response across all related articles in the media industry. The media is not listening to the people on this issue, its obvious.
    • Apparently...

      ...some ordinary citizens aren't listening to The People either. Public opinion on Snowden is far from unanimous.
      John L. Ries
      • Only in the US

        where paranoia rules. Read the latest article by Der Spiegel (a conservative media outlet) on the matter.
        Luís de Sousa
    • Nitpick

      Media are plural (the singular is medium).
      John L. Ries
      • Counter-nitpick

        The Technical Writer's Companion advises, “In much informal writing, data is considered a collective singular noun. In formal scientific and scholarly writing, however, data is generally used as a plural, with datum as the singular form. Base your decision on whether your readers should consider the data as a single collection or as a group of individual facts. Whatever you decide, be sure that your pronouns and verbs agree in number with the selected usage.”

        Chicago Manual of Style states, “When the subject is a collective noun conveying the idea of unity or multitude, the verb is singular {the nation is powerful}. When the subject is a collective noun conveying the idea of plurality, the verb is plural {the faculty were divided in their sentiments}.”

        John, if you wish to erroneously classify *this* message board as “formal”, that's your prerogative. When people nitpick words like “media” and “data”, very rarely are those people correct. I now count you among those people.

        Furthermore, in *your* sentence, you refer to the word “media” itself. Using a word as a word negates any plurality the meaning of the word may have. Compare this dynamic to the use of variable pointers in computer programming--regardless of how much memory a variable occupies, the pointer to that location in memory is *singular*.
  • Mr Snowden we salute you

    “International organizations are looking at ways to do less business with U.S. companies, since the NSA has direct backdoors into many of them.”

    Mr. Snowden the American worker salutes you. (with our middle finger extended)

    Surely no one in the tech community was caught off guard by any of this. They are not naive enough to believe that anything they do on the Internet is private.

    The U.S. may have been better at it but again no one here truly believes they are the only government participating in these types of activities.

    If so, I have some swamp land for sale that is highly suitable for farming.
  • Snowden did this for free

    If Snowden did this for free it is not so hard to imagine that there could be 10s of Snowdens who figured out that they could get money for this type of information. I guess Chinese and Russians already have people at NSA who get them data for a fee.
  • Much will change.

    Buying software from American companies is the same as paying to be spied. Slowly everyone will come to realise that open source also means security. IMHO the oddity of closed software, that has no parallel in any other engineering field, has its days numbered.
    Luís de Sousa
    • Depends on the software

      If the software is running on your local machine and isn't involved in telecommunications, then you're probably safe (you can always check with a packet sniffer to see what it's sending and where). The thing about secret back doors is that someone has to implement them, but the more people are in on the secret the harder it is to keep it. And it's not like the US government has the ability to "disappear" uncooperative software executives and developers without anyone noticing.
      John L. Ries
  • Everyone spies, just the yanks got caught

    Every govt spies, every govt knows they are being spied upon. Politicians now have to waste their time putting on a public face pretending they didn't know about it. Those who are anti-american will use this to further their cause, just as the anti-Australian in Indonesia are trying to use it against Australia to further their cause.

    It amazes me just how naive people are.

    Snowden and Assenge are little more than thieves who defend themselves by pretending to have a higher purpose. Theft is theft, they need to be in jump suits picking up trash on the highways for the next 20 years.
    • You think those two are the only ones?

      GW says, "...thieves who defend themselves by pretending to have a higher purpose." Uhh, doesn't that describe a myriad corporations and world governments? You seem to demonize two small-time individuals, yet in the same breath you had already endorsed the thievery of information. That's what spying is anyway -- "taking" intellectual property that is not "yours". You can't have it both ways, Mr. Government Apologist.
    • Pretending to Have a Higher Purpose?

      Really? You're the one who's naive. Snowden reported findings about the NSA invading The People's privacy and the fact that the NSA is trying to justify it.
  • Some people genuinely Believe their material is "private" or at best "safe"

    I saw a video made by a comedian ( I forget which site), where he used a basic social media tool to identify people with no security or privacy options turned on with their social media postings, and he came up to them like he had known them forever, and they had no idea how he got the info. As to the info used about their home "attendance", such as ..." I will be away on hols for 2 weeks in [ name some place far away].." and the post privacy gives their address, and then they get surprised when they get a visit by a burglar ( unrelated to the comedian video). Outside of IT or even security specialists, some people have totally no idea what could affect them. Even some so called IT specialists have the most careless attitude, and then they get surprised when they get hacked, or have their accounts breached.
  • Cloud Computing Security (or lack thereof)

    I don't know why anyone is surprised by security issues with cloud computing. I have always been skeptical of putting much of my work on the cloud for many reasons, of which security is one of them. There is still value to working offline, and I suspect that more people will be falling back to offline computing as much as possible. There is no more effective way to protect against internet threats than to work offline.
  • Snowden has shown that closed source software is inherently untrustworthy

    Snowden has demonstrated a profound flaw with all closed source software: No matter how much software makers deny collusion with the NSA and try to reassure us, there is no way to know whether they're telling the truth, because they won't let us see their code. They ask us to trust but prevent us from verifying.

    With open source, back doors and security weaknesses have no place to hide. That doesn't mean that open source software is free of security flaws of course, but it does mean that with enough eyes, flaws can and will be found and corrected.

    This problem with closed source is so deep, so intractable, and so difficult to escape from, that most of the world is either living in denial about it or, even worse, acquiescing to a situation that no sane person would consider acceptable.