By Doug Gross
(CNN) — Still concerned about some faceless government bureaucrat peeking at your e-mails and other online communications? Well, you’ve got a new champion: Microsoft.
The computing giant has announced a set of new privacy features, in a post that specifically calls out “government snooping” as the reason.
Responding to news reports that the National Security Agency may be monitoring more online activity than was previously believed, Microsoft attorney and executive vice president Brad Smith wrote that the company is rolling out three new features:
— Expanded encryption across Microsoft services.
— Reinforced legal protections for customer data.
— Enhanced transparency designed to show customers that Microsoft products don’t have “back doors” that make government surveillance easier.
“Like many others, 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,” Smith wrote in the post published late Wednesday.
“… If true, these efforts threaten to seriously undermine confidence in the security and privacy of online communications. Indeed, government snooping potentially now constitutes an ‘advanced persistent threat,’ alongside sophisticated malware and cyber attacks.”
Just over a month ago, a Washington Post report said the NSA can tap into overseas data links to collect millions of text, video and audio records from tech giants like Google and Yahoo every day. The NSA denied that report.
Wednesday’s post says Microsoft launched “a comprehensive engineering effort” to enhance encryption on communications via tools like e-mail service Outlook, productivity suite Office 365, SkyDrive and Windows Azure.
Data sent between customers and Microsoft is now encrypted by default, meaning messages will be garbled during transition so they become useless to anyone who may intercept them between the sender and intended recipient. All messages traveling between Microsoft servers will be added.
Some changes went into effect immediately, and all will be active by the end of 2014, Smith wrote.
“While we have no direct evidence that customer data has been breached by unauthorized government access, we don’t want to take any chances and are addressing this issue head on,” the post said.
In recent months, some of tech’s biggest players have been pushing back against perceived government intrusions.
In September, CEOs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo took to the stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference to condemn government surveillance of private citizens online.
Microsoft’s move follows Google and Yahoo, both of which have stepped up encryption of users’ data in light of reports about the NSA. In a blog post last month announcing the new protections, Mayer wrote that “Yahoo has never given access to our data centers to the NSA or any other government agency. Ever.”
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