Who stole the laptop?

It is of course a given that the US government must be putting all its resources into finding Edward Snowden and keeping close tables on everyone who might be even remotely associated with him. In this interview, Greenwald says [link added] that someone broke into his home in Rio and stole a laptop belonging to his partner. We do not need Sherlock Holmes to crack this case.

For now, Greenwald said he is taking extra precautions against the prospect that he is a target of U.S. surveillance. He said he began using encrypted email when he began communicating with Snowden in February after Snowden sent him a YouTube video walking him through the procedure to encrypt his email.

“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,” Greenwald said. “I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”

When asked if Greenwald believed his computer was being monitored by the U.S. government. “I would be shocked if the U.S. government were not trying to access the information on my computer. I carry my computers and data with me everywhere I go.”

Of course, he will not bring his laptop when he comes to the US (if he does come) because the US has had a practice of confiscating the hard drives of the computers of people entering the US if they are dissidents. Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras are just two of the people who are harassed this way whenever they return to the US.


  1. marypoppins says

    Many Canadian professionals are told not to travel to the US with unencrypted confidential information because they have the right to clone the computer/hard drive when you cross into the US.
    Mary P

  2. Pris P says

    I read the article earlier today and it was refreshing to finally get some perspective on Snowden’s intentions. It’s evident from the use of encryption that he doesn’t want just any info getting out. The media is of course attempting to spin it as he will have no choice but to do so now that he’s in Russia but he seems to have the reigns here. Russia can’t access the encryption. This guy knew what he was doing and he definitely has balls for doing it.

  3. slc1 says

    I am no expert on encryption technologies but it is my information that there is no encryption strategy that is unbreakable if the opponent has unlimited time and computer power. NSA certainly has virtually unlimited computing power and, given enough time, would be able to break any encryption that Snowden has installed on his laptops.

  4. trucreep says

    slc1 – That may be true, but unlimited time and computer power may be closer to “unlimited” than most people are used to (like we’re talking in terms of YEARS)

  5. slc1 says

    Re trucreep @ #6

    As I understand it, the computing centers at NSA are set up to take maximum use of parallel processing so I wouldn’t be too sure that years is a good estimate. If I were Snowden, I wouldn’t count on it.

  6. richardrobinson says

    While that’s true from a technical standpoint, it’s not very difficult to devise an encryption scheme that will take the computing power and time required to break it into a cosmic scale. Even with the NSA’s computing power, they’d have to abandon whatever else all those computers are doing and it would still take an impressive amount of time to break even relatively modest encryption.

  7. Mano Singham says

    As I see it, Snowden’s encryption is not to hide it form the NSA because after all, he got it from their computers. So the NSA’s decryption powers are not relevant.

    It is to tell them that they cannot suppress the release by getting rid of him. It is encrypted so that he has control over its release and he is clearly not going to hold on to it for too long.

  8. richardrobinson says

    Let’s put it into numbers. If Snowden is using 256-bit encryption (relatively modest), then the NSA has to find the right key out of roughly 10^80 possibilities. If they use a million cpus (10^6) each running roughly a billion operations per second (10^9), it’ll still take 10^65 seconds to find the right key.

    There are plenty of shortcuts you can take to shorten that, even drastically, but you’re still left with something that will take years, no matter how much money you’re willing to throw at the problem.

  9. sijd says

    I am no expert on encryption technologies but it is my information that there is no encryption strategy that is unbreakable if the opponent has unlimited time and computer power

    Not exactly an expert myself, but here goes my take:

    One time pads are unbreakable, unfortunately they’re also quite impractical. Modern encryption systems provide a weaker guarantee: they can be broken by brute force, but not in an efficient manner. Throwing more resources at the problem will speed up the search, but only by a constant factor, the underlying complexity of the problem remains untouched. Any increase in computation speed can then be overpowered by simply choosing a longer encryption key

    (If you’re looking for further information a very nice and quite accessible introduction to cryptography can be found in chapter I of these lecture notes)

    NSA certainly has virtually unlimited computing power and, given enough time, would be able to break any encryption that Snowden has installed on his laptops

    I’ve no doubts that the NSA has both the resources and the expertise, then again Snowden worked for them for quite a while and the data is probably encrypted according to their own standards. The question then becomes “Can the NSA create an encryption that they can’t break themselves ?” and I would guess that they probably can

  10. slc1 says

    Forgive my ignorance but if Snowden created the encrypted files on the laptop computers, which, presumably, are 64 bit machines, is there software available for them that can execute 256 bit encryption on them?

  11. Corvus illustris says

    This seems to be a variation on a theme by Wikileaks. Snowden’s stuff is “out there,” probably in pieces on many servers, all encrypted as a protection against prying eyes not necessarily NSA’s. But it’s an insurance policy for Snowden because it all comes out if he’s molested.

    When Fauxnews and its imitators the MSM go on and on about the Russians and Chinese reading Snowden’s flash- and hard drives, my eyes scan the ceiling. Have they been told to sound that stupid, or don’t they need to be told?

  12. richardrobinson says

    The two aren’t really related. You can use an 8 bit processor to add two 512 bit numbers. You just have to do it 8 bits at a time with a few extra steps in between. It’s slower, but you’ll still get the right result.

  13. richardrobinson says

    Maybe Glenn should have told his partner the files were on thumb drives buried all over the garden.

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