Internet Sources: Government Agencies Demanding Passwords

Friday, 26 Jul 2013 01:23 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Government agencies are demanding that Internet companies release users' passwords, according to industry sources who claim they are refusing the requests despite the pressure.

"I've certainly seen them ask for passwords," one source told CNET.com, speaking on conditions of anonymity. "We push back."

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Passwords are usually stored in an encrypted form, but if the government got access them they could be use access confidential information, impersonate users, or even decipher other encrypted devices.

Another unidentified source, reportedly from a large company in the Silicon Valley, told CNET that it has received legal requests as well from the federal government for stored passwords. But this source said companies "really heavily scrutinize" the requests.

The government requests don't ask just for passwords, but also encryption algorithms and the "salt," which is a random string of letters or numbers that makes it more difficult to reverse encryptions and determine passwords. The requests also demand question codes associated with user accounts.

Officials at Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo declined to comment on whether they had been requested or ordered to turn over passwords. But all three insisted that they protect the private information of consumers who use their products.

"We take the privacy and security of our users very seriously," said a Google official.

A spokeswoman at Yahoo said, "If we receive a request from law enforcement for a user's password, we deny such requests on the grounds that they would allow overly broad access to our users' private information.

"If we are required to provide information, we do so only in the strictest interpretation of what is required by law."

Other companies, including Apple, Facebook, AOL, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast did not respond to inquiries about whether they had been pressured by the government to turn over password information.

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