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Threat Intelligence

2/11/2020
10:30 AM
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CIA's Secret Ownership of Crypto AG Enabled Extensive Espionage

Crypto AG made millions selling encryption devices to more than 120 countries, which unknowingly transmitted intel back to the CIA.

Crypto AG, a Switzerland-based communications encryption firm, was secretly owned by the CIA in a classified partnership with West German intelligence. For years, it sold rigged devices to foreign governments with the intent of spying on messages its users believed to be encrypted.

In an account published by the Washington Post and German public broadcaster ZDF, reporters dive into the details of a decades-long arrangement through which the United States and allies made millions selling encryption equipment to more than 120 countries into the 21st century. Crypto clients included Iran, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria, even the Vatican.

Governments relying on Crypto devices to protect their communications did not know they were designed so intelligence officials could easily break the codes used to send messages. The operation, first known as "Thesaurus" and later "Rubicon," intercepted correspondence that informed them of global military operations, hostage crises, assassinations, and bombings.

"It was the intelligence coup of the century," as stated in a CIA report, one of the documents obtained by the Post and ZDF as part of their investigation. "Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries."

The Swiss government has officially opened an investigation into Crypto, according to SwissInfo, the International Service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. The general export license for Crypto devices has been suspended "until open questions have been clarified."

Read the full report here.

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "What Is a Privileged Access Workstation (PAW)?."

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