Electronic Design

Spying Has Come A Long Way Since Deep Throat's Heyday

With the revelation earlier this month that one-time FBI official Mark Felt was the "Deep Throat" source to Washington Post reporters during the Watergate investigation, I got to thinking about the electronic designers who work behind locked doors developing the tools for spying, surveillance, and wiretapping.

Watergate history is this month's hot topic, and electronics—that is, bugging devices—played a key role in the story. According to Washington Post accounts of the day, the ex-CIA burglars had removed ceiling panels inside Democratic Party headquarters to "slide a bugging device through the panels." They also carried "sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations."

Hidden listening devices were the lifeblood of the FBI and CIA in those days, the golden era of bugging. The Watergate break-in occurred at the height of the Cold War, when both the CIA and its Soviet nemesis the KGB worked to outdo the other's cleverness in bugging offices, embassies, and military facilities. (So I guess it seemed run-of-the-course to these ex-CIA staffers to bug the opposing political party.)

For a fascinating look at the James Bond-like tools of the spy trade, the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. offers a comprehensive collection of these clandestine electronics. Proving the Cold War hasn't completely warmed, the KGB has opened its own museum in Moscow, showcasing its spyware.

I had a chance to visit the International Spy Museum recently and highly recommend it to any of you who want a chance to see genuine espionage equipment and the ingenious ways it was applied. The collection includes everything from a circa 1960s KGB shoe with heel transmitter to a CIA-issued tree-stump listening post. This particular listening device was placed in the woods near a Soviet base to capture secret military radio transmissions and relay them to a U.S. satellite.

Other collection highlights include a buttonhole camera, a lipstick-tube pistol, and the German Enigma Cipher Machine. This electromechanical device was used to code and decipher messages. In 1943, the "first computing machine in the world," the Colossus I, was invented to break the Enigma code. It was considered a major contributor to Allied victory in World War II.

TODAY'S CRYPTO
My tour of the Spy Museum was part of a Harris Corp. press event. The museum was an appropriate venue because of Harris' role developing cryptographic solutions. Securing the communications infrastructure of the government is a hot area these days. Business 2.0 magazine recently ranked Harris as one of its Top 100 recommended investments, with a 12-month stock return of 37.1% and a 76% growth since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Harris highlighted several products at the conference:

  • The SecNet11 family of secure wireless local-area networks (WLANs) provides secure communications by encrypting data as well as source and destination addresses, preventing traffic analysis on transmitted data. Based on the IEEE 802.11b standards, the SecNet 11 Plus PC card has been certified as part of the National Security Agency's (NSA) Commercial COMSEC Evaluation Program.
  • SecNet 54 provides the same Top Secret cryptography via 802.11 a/b/g-based protocol. It also offers Ethernet interfaces to host computers and networks.
  • For embedded applications, Harris' Sierra II programmable cryptographic modules are certified by the NSA for the protection of voice and data traffic up through the Top Secret level. Sierra II includes systems-on-a-chip in multiple package types and on-chip software for implementation specific applications (ISA). Harris will roll out a developer's kit and training program this summer. Sierra II, says Harris, is finding a home in military sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), munitions security, and other key systems requiring the highest levels of information security.
  • Harris also touted its next-generation encryption solution, the 256-bit Citadel II algorithm. Citadel II, says Harris, brings military and government applications the highest possible cryptographic strength. It's designed to be secure against "any and all analytical techniques an adversary has at their disposal."
  • The scope of communications security and espionage has changed radically since the Cold War and the Watergate era. Back then, infiltrating the enemy was an easier assignment. The enemy built embassies and military bases (and campaign headquarters), offering an obvious target for planting bugs or breaking in with cameras in the middle of the night and photographing documents.

    With no central command centers to invade, espionage today centers on tapping into the amorphous, high-speed communications all around us, both in the wireless space and on the Internet. It takes superior engineering to keep government algorithms and communications hardware one step ahead of the enemy, whoever and wherever they might be.

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