Report: NSA Snooping Threatens Big Data Market
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) continues to collect vast amounts of personal data, allowing the agency and other actors to put it to questionable use, according to a new study on “trolling” personal communications and its impact on big data.
Market research Frost & Sullivan found in a study of NSA and the big data market that the spy agency sweeps up information from 99 percent of calls placed within and outside the U.S. Even when calls originate outside the U.S., they are frequently routed over network equipment owned by American carriers. NSA has ready access to the data carried by these commercial networks.
That ability creates a host of vulnerabilities that affect the big data market, said the report’s author, Jeff Cotrupe, Frost & Sullivan’s industry director for big data and analytics. “By figuratively placing all relevant communications in the U.S. on a dashboard for at-a-glance monitoring, the NSA is creating a scenario where an outside entity that gained control of NSA systems could conceivably and swiftly do a great deal of damage,” the report warns.
The best hope for plugging the security holes are research advances and legislation, including a bill in the U.S. Senate that would limit NSA’s data collection mandate. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the legislation aimed at reining in NSA surveillance on July 28, just before Congress left for a five-week recess.
Meanwhile, Harvard University’s Center for Research on Computation & Society has launched a “definitional privacy” initiative that would probe political and ethical issues that extend beyond technical questions. One goal is to develop software-driven big data solutions.
“If successful, this could persuade data hunter-gatherers across law enforcement, public policy, and private commerce to use applied technology to support things like a healthier population–while ensuring things like the U.S. Constitution are still breathing, too,” Cotrope added.
Much of the concern focuses on NSA programs exposed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, particularly the agency’s PRISM program that reportedly focuses on obtaining direct access to most U.S. electronic communications and credit card transactions. The extension of these eavesdropping programs to smartphones and other mobile devices threatens to have a “chilling effort on the big data market, and many industries that rely on big data,” Frost & Sullivan warned.
The stakes are high for the estimated $25 billion global market for big data. Frost & Sullivan forecast that the big data market would grow by 12.7 percent compound annual rate through 2017, with revenues surging from about $28 billion in 2014 to about $40 billion by 2017.
The market researcher said key drivers of the big data market include mobile, retail and location analytics, social media and site analytics, marketing and sales data along with business process and strategic analytics.
While NSA claims to be interested in collecting metadata, it has been working with its U.K. counterpart, according to Frost & Sullivan, on techniques that could be used to crack Secure Socket Layer encryption used to protect web-based communications and transactions.
Along with targeting content encryption, the market research reported that NSA is also probing for weaknesses in the Advanced Encryption Standard, and encryption algorithm used to secure sensitive by unclassified government information.
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