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NSA documents say cellphone encryption easily bypassed

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Documents from the National Security Agency indicate U.S. spies were confident they could get around standard cellphone encryption technology.

The documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edwin Snowden described a capability that telecom experts described as sweeping and an indication that intelligence services worldwide could probably listen into just about anyone they wanted to, the Washington Post reported.

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"If the NSA knows how to do this, presumably other intelligence agencies, which may be more hostile to the United States, have discovered how to do this, too," said Matthew Blaze, a cryptology expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

Blaze and other technical experts told the Post the weak point was in A5/1, a commonly used cellphone encryption technology that the NSA apparently cracked without too much difficulty. David Wagner, a computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley told the news paper A5/1 "was designed 30 years ago, and you wouldn't expect a 30-year-old car to have the latest safety mechanisms."

The Post said mobile phone carriers have been urged in recent years to upgrade to more-secure encryption systems, but most have not yet done so. Most cell networks worldwide still operate on older 2G networks with relatively weak encryption, and a skilled hacker has ways of maneuvering a phone on to a 2G network even when better ones are available.

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