The supercomputer described in the trove, “WindsorGreen,” was a system designed to excel at the sort of complex mathematics that underlies encryption, the technology that keeps data private, and almost certainly intended for use by the Defense Department’s signals intelligence wing, the National Security Agency. WindsorGreen was the successor to another password-cracking machine used by the NSA, “WindsorBlue,” which was also documented in the material leaked from NYU and which had been previously described in the Norwegian press thanks to a document provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Both systems were intended for use by the Pentagon and a select few other Western governments, including Canada and Norway.
It is a dizzying gamble and there are billions of euros riding on the outcome. If the wager pays off, Europe will hold its own against mighty China and the US; if not, the entire project will be regarded in hindsight as a breathtakingly indulgent folly. I refer, of course, not to the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s EU membership but to the European Commission’s announcement last week that it would be launching a €1bn plan to explore “quantum technologies”. It is the third of the commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship projects — visionary megaprojects lasting a decade or more. These are challenges too grand — and bets too risky — for a single nation to square up to on its own.
A Johns Hopkins computer science professor blogs on the NSA and is asked to take it down. I fear for academic freedom
This actually happened yesterday:
A professor in the computer science department at Johns Hopkins, a leading American university, had written a post on his blog, hosted on the university’s servers, focused on his area of expertise, which is cryptography. The post was highly critical of the government, specifically the National Security Agency, whose reckless behavior in attacking online security astonished him.
Professor Matthew Green wrote on 5 September:
I was totally unprepared for today’s bombshell revelations describing the NSA’s efforts to defeat encryption. Not only does the worst possible hypothetical I discussed appear to be true, but it’s true on a scale I couldn’t even imagine.
The post was widely circulated online because it is about the sense of betrayal within a community of technical people who had often collaborated with the government. (I linked to it myself.)
On Monday, he gets a note from the acting dean of the engineering school asking him to take the post down and stop using the NSA logo as clip art in his posts. The email also informs him that if he resists he will need a lawyer. The professor runs two versions of the same site: one hosted on the university’s servers, one on Google’s blogger.com service. He tells the dean that he will take down the site mirrored on the university’s system but not the one on blogger.com. He also removes the NSA logo from the post.