Conspiracy theories are fun even when you don’t buy into them hook, line, and sinker. I enjoy reading about all of the wonky theories people have come up with, especially if that theory involves lizard people. But amongst the conspiracy theories out there the one that annoys me the most is that the government is all omnipotent. This theory is very prevalent in libertarian circles, which is ironic considering that most libertarians view the government has being entirely incompetent. Whenever I try to discuss tools to secure one’s self against the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance apparatus there are usually a few people who start making up bullshit and claiming that using such tools with either make you a target, are backdoored by the NSA (even if the project is open source and the code has been thoroughly reviewed for such shenanigans), or that the NSA has magical super computers that can instantly break all encryption protocols.
Unlike most conspiracy theories, which usually contain some kernel of factual information that wild theories are based off of, the claim that the government NSA can render all computer security tools impotent is entirely baseless. As Bruce Schneier pointed out in a recent blog entry the NSA isn’t magic:
I am regularly asked what is the most surprising thing about the Snowden NSA documents. It’s this: the NSA is not made of magic. Its tools are no different from what we have in our world, it’s just better-funded. X-KEYSCORE is Bro plus memory. FOXACID is Metasploit with a budget. QUANTUM is AirPwn with a seriously privileged position on the backbone. The NSA breaks crypto not with super-secret cryptanalysis, but by using standard hacking tricks such as exploiting weak implementations and default keys. Its TAO implants are straightforward enhancements of attack tools developed by researchers, academics, and hackers; here’s a computer the size of a grain of rice, if you want to make your own such tools. The NSA’s collection and analysis tools are basically what you’d expect if you thought about it for a while.
The NSA is little more than the combination of well known hacking tools, massive funding, and privileged positions on the main infrastructure. Edward Snowden has said numerous times that encryption works. Anybody who claims that the NSA can render all known encryption protocols impotent is literally making shit up. It’s no different than the conspiracy theory that lizard people secretly control all of the governments of the world. Zero evidence exists supporting the claim.
My theory is that people who claim nobody should bother using encryption because it’s futile are simply too lazy to learn how to use the tools and don’t want to admit it. To make themselves feel better they justify their actions by claiming doing otherwise is pointless.