The National Security Agency, together with its UK counterpart GCHQ, has cracked or worked around many of the Internet encryption tools protecting banking data, medical records, and global commerce as well as the emails, chats, Internet searches and phone calls of individuals.
Newly revealed documents show that many of the encryption methods protecting the everyday communications of Internet users in America and around the world are no barrier to the NSA.
After the agency was denied its own "back door" to all encryption tools in the 1990s, it began in 2000 to invest billions in overcoming them.
The NSA used supercomputers to break some of these codes by brute force.
The agency also began working with technology companies to privately get their "back door" built into software from the start, though the documents reportedly do not specify which companies.
For the rest, the NSA used its position as the world's foremost code maker to surreptitiously plant weaknesses in global encryption standards.
In 2010, the NSA briefed Britain's Government Communications Headquarters on its progress to date:
"For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies ... Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable."
The NSA also described their multibillion dollar covert decryption efforts as the "price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace."
A GCHQ team in the UK reportedly led decryption development on the "Big Four" online service providers -- Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.