The NSA, Online Encryption, And You

The ongoing story of the National Security Agency's surveillance practices became even more intriguing this week with revelations that the NSA and its British counterpart cracked encryption codes — and have been doing so for years.

Cracking encryption allows the NSA to view information, like e-mail messages,  users thought would be secure, because of the added layer of protection.  

Mary Dickerson is in charge of IT security for the University of Houston System.  She says one important thing to keep in mind is that hackers or identity thieves are much more likely than the NSA is to break into your email. 

"It's also important to understand that we may not understand the full story associated with this.  And, that, if there are courts that have granted approvals for this, that it may be more lawful than it appears from initial reports."

Dickerson acknowledges and shares the concerns many may have about the NSA's encryption-cracking ability falling into the wrong hands. She says just like there's no guarantee of absolute physical security, there's also no guarantee of absolute online security.

"If you practice good computing strategies.  If you are diligent in the websites you go to, and the way that you protect your accounts, then you do protect yourself more than others that don't."

Dickerson says good computing strategies include keeping the operating systems updated on all your electronic devices.  Also, don't use similar passwords for your financial and social media accounts.  

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...