London: Intelligence agencies of the US and UK may have cracked encryption codes protecting emails and banking and medical records of billions around the world.
According to the latest set of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK's GCHQ successfully decoded key online security protocols.
They suggest some internet companies provided the agencies backdoor access to their security systems.
The NSA is said to spend USD 250 million a year on a top-secret operation codenamed Bullrun, an American civil-war battle, the Guardian newspaper reported as part of its ongoing series of revelations.
The British counterpart scheme run by GCHQ is called Edgehill, after the first major engagement of the English civil war, the report said.
"For the past decade, NSA has lead (sic) an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used internet encryption technologies," states a GCHQ document from 2010.
"Vast amounts of encrypted internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable...Various methods have been used in order to break or circumvent the security protecting the personal data of billions of people," the report said.
These include breaking encryption with "brute force" attacks conducted by super computers; using court orders to force companies to hand over master keys to their software; and one programme that "actively engages US and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products' designs".
This is the latest in a series of intelligence leaks by former NSA contractor Snowden, who began providing caches of sensitive documents to media outlets three months ago.
In June, the 30-year-old fled his home in Hawaii, where he worked at a small NSA installation, to Hong Kong, and subsequently to Russia after making revelations about a secret US data-gathering programme.
A US federal court has filed espionage charges against Snowden and is seeking his extradition. Snowden, however, remains in Russia where he has been granted temporary asylum.