Microsoft: U.S. government is a potential security threat

Microsoft is trying to change the terms of the NSA debate — literally.

The company is labeling any government effort to spy on its online communications as evidence of an “advanced persistent threat,” a term that’s so far been reserved to describe foreign espionage units such as the one allegedly operated by the Chinese military.

“We are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data,” Microsoft’s top lawyer, Brad Smith, wrote Wednesday in a blog post.

An advanced persistent threat is somebody who gains access to an actor’s network and hides there while stealing sensitive information for a long period of time. Any old hacker can attempt a break-in and set off alarm bells in the process. But it takes a sophisticated attacker to infiltrate a network without anyone knowing.

The NSA’s attempt to snoop on Microsoft’s data center traffic, undetected, reasonably fits this description. Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the government surveillance earlier this summer, tech companies have generally refrained from using the term — mostly because of the NSA’s use of legal, if controversial, secret court orders. But it now appears that, at least in Microsoft’s case, the rhetorical gloves have come off.

via Microsoft: U.S. government is a potential security threat.

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