Government surveillance, perpetual war…are we living in Orwell’s dystopian society and just don’t know it? It turns out Big Brother is not just watching you he is listening to you, reading your emails and collating your personal data.
In Bluffdale Utah a data center is being built for the US National Security Agency or NSA to collect, store, decipher and analyse the world’s communications. The state-of-the-art facility is being touted as a defense against terrorist hackers to ensure cybersecurity but suspiciously the man who first introduced the the data centre in Salt Lake City in 2009 was not someone from the Department of Homeland Security, in fact he was the head of the intelligence collection mission for the CIA, Directorate of Science and Technology, Glenn A. Gaffney.
According to a 2007 Department of Defense report the Pentagon is trying to expand the Global Information Grid to handle yottabytes of data. For those of you who don’t know – a yottabyte is 10 to the power of 24 bytes of information. According to Wikipedia, as of 2011 no storage system or network has ever achieved one thousandth of a yottabyte. A yottabyte is so big that there isn’t even a term coined yet to define the unit of measurement above it! To give you an idea; Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt once estimated that if all human knowledge from the dawn of time until 2003 was measured it would be equal to around 5 exabytes (a million exabytes is equal to one yottabyte).
Plans for the centre include a security system with a fence designed to stop a heavy vehicle travelling at 80kph, closed-circuit cameras, a biometric identification system, a vehicle-inspection facility and a visitor-control centre. There will be 83,600 square-metres of space for technical support and administration personnel, and four 2,300 square-metre data halls to house rows upon rows of servers. The centre will also be equipped with fuel tanks to power back-up generators, water storage capable of supplying 6.4 million litres a day to cool the servers, and a substation to power the 65-megawatt electricity demands.
But if you think the NSA is interested in your webpages you are wrong, they are after what is called deep web or deepnet content. Deep web data is not indexable by standard search engines, it can represent unlinked content (content that is not linked to other pages), password-protected data, or information stored in file-formats not handled by search engines. The deep web is said to be several orders in magnitude larger than the surface web.
Our private digital data and personal information is currently protected by AES: Advanced Encryption Standard – an algorithmic specification for the encryption of electronic data. AES comes in three different strengths 128-bit, 192-bit and 256-bit ciphers. For the weakest 128-bit algorithm, it would take 10 to the power of 36 attempts in a brute-force attack of trying one combination after another in a trial-and-error offensive to unlock the encryption.
This kind of code-breaking requires a super-fast computer. In 2004 the US launched a programme to create a super-computer that could carry out a quadrillion operations per second – that’s 10 to the power of 15 or a petaflop. The venue for this programme was called the “secret city” located in Oak Ridge, Tennesse. Under the programme there are two research facilities: the unclassified facility for multiple research agencies to come together and work publicly to create a super-computer; and the classified facility where NSA scientists work covertly on secret cryptanalitic applications.
At the unclassified centre scientists developed a warehouse-sized XT5 1.75 petaflop supercomputer called the Jaguar. By late 2011 they had upgraded the Jaguar to 2.33 petaflops ranked third behind Japan’s 10.51 petaflop K-Computer, and China’s Tianne-1A 2.57 petaflop system. They expect to upgrade the Jaguar to XK6 at 20 petaflops by 2013.
The AES encryption system which was first launched in 2001 is expected to hold-up against the unclassified supercomputers for at least another decade but covert NSA supercomputers might break AES encryption algorithms before then. If the NSA reaches their goal to develop an exaflop computer by 2018 then Big Brother will know you better than you know yourself.
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
For more information and sources refer to WIRED-05-12
Now here’s a video of George Orwell in the last interview before his death: