April Fool An earlier version of this article was published in error carrying a sub-editing note which, if taken out of context, could have implied that we had offered line by line copy approval to an individual named "Sir Iain". We'd like to clarify that this is actually a friendly nickname for one of our editorial staff and that we did not in any way offer copy approval to the head of GCHQ or any other intelligence agency on this piece. -Ed.
The United States' National Security Agency - whose image has suffered recently following revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden - has hatched a bold plan to win back public support by offering a range of powerful cloud-based data services which will be free to use, the Register can exclusively reveal.
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The plans, which remain closely held pending Presidential approval, were leaked to el Reg by a source who declined to be named but whose credentials as a person familiar with the matter were nonetheless impeccable (details below).
In essence, the NSA plans involve leveraging the colossal amounts of data that the secret spy agency and its overseas partner organisations hoover up, and the vast amounts of analytical computing power at their disposal.
One of the most popular services for ordinary citizens and small businesses is expected to be the spook-backed bulletproof backup and data recovery service.
"We sit there every day monitoring everyone," says our source. "Often we see people have a hard disk failure or whatever, and they haven't backed up, or there's a fire or a power spike or a flood or something and they haven't backed up off-site - or their backup cloud service lets them down.
"And it's a completely needless tragedy, because of course the data isn't gone. We've still got it! Or definitely our overseas pals in the Five Eyes have, if there's been some kind of legal problem for us.
"So our line is going to be: Data disaster? Thought you'd lost those vital files, or that treasured video? Don't worry! NSA Catcher-in-the-Spy™ Secure Backup still has a copy! And the best of it is, you don't even need to have signed up with us! We back all your stuff up anyway, all the time! It's your right as a citizen! Of any country!"
Our source said the NSA and its allied spooks also see themselves as strongly positioned across all the traditional enterprise cloud environments.
"The fact is, even people who don't think they've moved to the Cloud, actually have already moved to the Cloud - our Cloud. We put all their stuff into it years ago; and talk about a seamless transition! They didn't even realise we'd done it.
"You'd have to be crazy to keep on using your legacy systems - just chuck them out now, and start using the Cloud that we've already built for you. You'd have to be even crazier to give money to Azure or AWS or someone to build another new cloud which you don't need," our source explained.
"We don't say 'Come to the Cloud', or 'Welcome to the Cloud', or anything like that. We say: Look around at the world you live in. That's our Cloud and you've always been inside it!"
Our source revealed to us that in fact one of the major widely used corporate Clouds is nothing more than a branded front-end linked to NSA resources, as part of a trial conducted in partnership with a major tech firm.
"We began it as an efficiency exercise," he told us. "We thought, why go to all the time and trouble of getting a secret National Security warrant and going round to their data centres and installing dark-fibre taps in the middle of the night and piping all the data down to Fort Meade or Cheltenham and putting it into another whole data centre? Why not just arrange for the customers to upload all their stuff straight to us?"
It appears that the "data centres" in which this Cloud service is nominally hosted are actually empty buildings containing nothing more than an unmapped network connection to NSA facilities located elsewhere. Our source declined to specify which Cloud was involved, though he did offer a hint.
"Yeah, sure there's a whole massive data centre there running entirely on solar power," he chuckled, adding that the generic term in the agency for such initiatives was "NSA as a Service", or NSAaaS™.
"We were going to give them voice recognition that actually works, too," our source disclosed. "We developed that years ago, for Echelon. But the chief decided it would give them an unfair advantage over their competitors."
Big Data? Huge Data? No, we're talking God Damn Bloody Enormous Data™
Another attractive offering, the allied spook services believe, will be their analytical and database services.
"These commercial so-called 'Big Data' operations are small-time," says our source. "Their data is picayune in scope - it ought to be called 'Titchy Data,' really - and they frankly have no idea how to mine it.
"They trawl through a load of old rubbish and say they'll come up with, I don't know, sales leads - and do they? No. 'Data Scientists', my arse.
"To be fair, we ourselves don't always have a whole lot of luck spotting people who are thinking of doing some terrorism: but it's a hell of a lot easier to spot, say, people who are thinking of getting some new computers for the office. They're just not as secretive about it, and there are a lot, lot more of them. D'you know, sometimes I think there just aren't many terrorists at all?
"Anyway, our God Damn Bloody Enormous Data™ packages are going to turn the enterprise computing space upside down - and there's no need to worry about lock-in. Your existing provider can't lock you in because we've got all your data already! And as a bonus we also have a load of other useful data you really wish you had, but that would be illegal - in your case.
"It's completely turn-key in nature - we can start as soon as you ask us. In fact we'll probably know you're going to ask us, certainly if you mention it to anyone using any form of electronic communications, and you'll find we've already started before you get in touch.
"In fact, hey, there's no need to contact us at all. Just tell someone you're thinking of giving us a try - and we'll call you.
"Yeah - howd'ya like that, Ellison?"
We asked our source if the NSAaaS™ and GDB Enormous Data™ products will be free to use, like the consumer/SME Catcher-in-the-Spy™ backup service.
"Well, it will be free in a way," he said. "Under our plans your company will have access to GDB Enormous Data™ for absolutely no charge ... provided it handles a certain percentage of its revenues via Five-Eyes nations for tax purposes. After all, we've got to keep the bills paid.
"Obviously that's going to be pretty expensive for some big firms compared to the way they handle their tax affairs now. But they need to ask themselves - can we afford NOT to be in on this?"
We speculated that forcing major firms to pay taxes could be a popular move with American, British and other Five-Eyes voters.
"Well, that's kind of the idea, as I understand it," our source said. "We're trying to get across to people that we're a massive powerful totally secret and unaccountable force for good in a lot of ways they didn't realise. We're not just drone missile strikes in Waziristan, or a black-ops SWAT team on your lawn if you accidentally speak a trigger phrase on the phone.
"We're so much more than that. We want to try to tell people: the fact that we've got all of your information is actually a positive thing and unlocks really a huge amount of potential for you and mankind. And us, sure.
"Information does want to be free: and, you know, we like to think we've freed it, from the millions - no, billions - of prisons it was being held in."
Regular readers will no doubt be aware that from time to time highly confidential information reaches the Register. In order to achieve secure communications with a source we usually suggest the use of asymmetric encryption employing our public key (included in full below).
On receiving an encrypted message we generally send a disguised reporter to purchase a brand new computer, with cash, from a retail outlet selected using a randomisation process based on cosmic ray impacts. We never connect this computer to the internet, and use it only once to decrypt the message. The machine is then forensically destroyed in the office arc furnace*.
Of course we have an office arc furnace. And our stationery cupboard is a TEMPEST-standard Faraday cage, too.
We were following this protocol recently to decrypt a message we had received. However before the office junior could even begin to manually key in the code of our in-house developed, guaranteed safe decryption program - let alone manually keying in the ciphertext** - the blank machine self-activated a hidden software/hardware monitoring/tracking/communications package which had evidently been placed inside it as a matter of routine at some point during the manufacturing and logistic chains. Upsettingly, the package worked even through the walls of our TEMPEST-standard office Faraday cage and stationery cupboard, where we do all our decryption: we later discovered that a covert ultrasonic through-metal communications rig had previously been emplaced on a building structural member.
The embedded surveillance module in our blank machine had been remotely activated by our source for this story, a long-time Register reader now working as a sysadmin at GCHQ - Britain's answer to the NSA. He used this method merely to establish his bona fides: subsequently we communicated using almost any piece of networked equipment, as our source assured us that our discussion of classified matters, though it would of course be intercepted, would be flagged up by GCHQ's analytical machinery only to him. ®
*Any records or notes that may be necessary are kept fully re-encrypted, written in longhand and concealed by a complex steganographic procedure, on photocombustible parchment kept in a deep subterranean vault located in a non-compliant jurisdiction.
We generally access our secret files by sending one of our boyfriends or girlfriends on an international flight. (Unlike some, our boyfriends and girlfriends all receive training in various exotic but useful Oriental techniques, including a mnemonic methodology allowing them to store large volumes of information in their unconscious minds such that they can only recall it in a fugue state triggered by a secret codeword known only to the editor of the Register and the abbot of our overseas archive facility).
Glad to have cleared that up.
**This turned out to be merely some humdrum revelations regarding the CEO of a major digital advertising platform and an unsavoury incident in his private combination menagerie and specialised undergarment wardrobe.