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Second Swiss firm allegedly sold encrypted spying devices

crypto affair
Omnisec is the second Swiss company that allegedly sold manipulated encryption devices to US intelligence services. Keystone / Walter Bieri

Swiss public television, SRF, has found a second company besides Crypto AG was involved in manufacturing manipulated devices allegedly used for spying by foreign intelligence.

According to SRF sourcesExternal link, the Swiss company Omnisec AG had ties to US intelligence services. This follows revelations in February by SRF, German television ZDF and The Washington Post that Zug-based firm Crypto AG was at the heart of a huge international spying operation led by the CIA, and to a lesser extent by the German BND spy agency. Omnisec was one of the largest competitors of Crypto AG.

Swiss cryptologist and professor Ueli Maurer was a consultant for Omnisec for years and told SRF that in 1989 US intelligence services (National Security Agency) contacted Omnisec through him.

Of concern are the OC-500 series devices. Devices were sold to several Swiss federal agencies. However, Swiss authorities only noticed the devices weren’t secure in the mid-2000s.

Several Swiss companies also received manipulated devices from Omnisec, including Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS. It is unclear whether the authorities informed UBS about the weak devices in the mid-2000s. UBS told SRF that it does not comment on security matters but that it had no indications that sensitive data were exposed at the time.

Omnisec, founded in 1987, manufactured voice, fax and data encryption equipment. It was dissolved a few years ago. The most recent head of the company, Clemens Kammer, told SRF that Omnisec customers “have and will continue to place great value on security, confidentiality, discretion and reliability in business relationships”.

Some politicians have called for further investigations into these latest allegations that may reveal who, if anyone, in the federal government knew of Omnisec’s business affairs with foreign intelligence.

Crypto affair

Earlier this month, a nine-month investigationExternal link by the Swiss parliamentary audit committee (GPDel), found that the Swiss intelligence service knew that the US Central Intelligence Agency was behind the Swiss-based Crypto AG as far back as 1993. The report says that Swiss intelligence later collaborated with them to gather information from foreign sources. 

More than 100 countries bought encryption devices from the Zug-based company, which did business under the guise of Swiss neutrality. In reality, the firm belonged to the CIA and Germany intelligence service, which could freely read what it encrypted. Information intercepted with the help of Crypto’s devices changed the course of events, including the Iran hostage crisis of 1979.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR