As reporters at the New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica dig deeper into the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, new and disturbing revelations continue to be made. Two programs, dubbed Bullrun (NSA) and Edgehill (GCHQ), have just come to light, that focus on circumventing or breaking the security and encryption tools used across the internet. The effort dwarfs the $20 million Prism program that simply gobbled up data. Under the auspices of "Sigint (signals intelligence) enabling" in a recent budget request, the NSA was allocated roughly $255 million dollars this year alone to fund its anti-encryption program.
The agencies' efforts are multi-tiered, and start with a strong cracking tool. Not much detail about the methods or software are known, but a leaked memo indicates that the NSA successfully unlocked "vast amounts" of data in 2010. By then it was already collecting massive quantities of data from taps on internet pipelines, but much of it was safely protected by industry standard encryption protocols. Once that wall fell, what was once simply a torrent of scrambled ones and zeros, became a font of "exploitable" information. HTTPS, VoIP and SSL are all confirmed to have been compromised through Bullrun, though, it appears that some solutions to the NSA's "problem" are less elegant than others. In some cases a super computer and simple brute force are necessary to peel back the layers of encryption.