What can Google do?

Google's two computing centers are seen from the air in The Dalles, Oregon.

To “encrypt” is the act of concealing data by converting  it into code. And as we learned last week, much of the “encryption” technology companies use to make our information safe online might not be that safe after all.

According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency has used supercomputers to crack the codes or worked with tech companies to find a way around them to decode encrypted data. Well today, Google announced it’s fighting back and beefing up its encryption.

Most of the data we give Google -- in emails and searches -- that’s encrypted. But eventually, all that information ends up on Google’s servers. And when they pass the data back and forth, it’s not encrypted.

Google’s said it’s going to start encrypting that data, said Matt Blaze, a cyber-security professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  

“And essentially what that does is makes it more difficult for the NSA to make any sense of communications that it intercepts without Google’s cooperation,” said Blaze.  

And Blaze says that it’s not just the National Security Agency. We’ve known for a that countries like China and Russia are trying to get a hold of our data too. He thinks companies like Microsoft and Amazon are making similar updates too.

Looked at one way, today’s announcement is a PR offensive, said Matthew Green is a cyber-security professor at Johns Hopkins University.

“They’re announcing this today to make sure that people know that this is important to them,” Green said.  

By “people,” Green’s talking about companies that store their data and do their computing on Google’s servers. By one account, cloud services  rang up about $18 billion in worldwide sales last year.

But cybersecurity experts say, the effectiveness of Google’s new safeguards will probably be short lived, said Dan Kaminsky, a cybersecurity expert.

“You know the honest truth is it is an arms race, the other side has all the cards,” Kaminsky said.

Still, Kaminsky says if Google wants to compete for business abroad, it’s got to show the world that it’s doing everything it can to keep its data private

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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