The US National Security Agency has technology that can access a user’s computer and alter data even when that computer is not connected to the Internet, according to a report in the New York Times.  Some 100,000 computers worldwide have allegedly been infected.

NSA

According to the report, the technology can be inserted into a computer through the likes of a memory sticks or disks physically inserted into the computer.  Once inside the computer the spyware uses the circuit boards and memory cards to establish a covert channel of radio waves that connect the computer to a spy network.  Someone’s computer can be as much as eight miles away from the spy network’s digital collection facility for the spy network to access the computer.

Disk inserted into computer attaches to hard drive, emits covert radio signal to NSA

Given as examples in the report were items such as the NSA using spyware to implant in targets such as Russian military networks, trade groups such as those inside the European Union, government anti-terrorism partners in remote locations such as Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan as well as computers used by Mexican police and drug cartels.  The New York Times said there was no evidence that the spyware was used inside the United States. The source of the Times report is said to be documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and follows similar reports in the German publication Der Spiegel, which said a spy unit has methods to infect everything from computers to cell phones.

Obama to announce protections, receives early support from DoJ

On Friday, US President Barack Obama is expected to deliver a speech outlining the steps that will be taken to curtail the electronic spying activities of the NSA.

Speaking at a DoJ meeting, Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly has given the Obama administration early praise for efforts to curtail electronic spying activities and protect civil liberties of US citizens.  Mr. Holder is reported to have called the surveillance reforms “smart” and “the right thing to do”, according to senior staff who attended the meeting.  President Obama’s Friday speech on surveillance reforms, scheduled to be given at the Justice Department, will be his first visit to the DoJ since becoming President.

The DoJ is charged with identifying and prosecuting NSA leakers and last June filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Snowden, where the former NSA contractor was changed with three felony counts of theft of government property, disclosing classified information and disclosing communications intelligence. After the disclosed NSA electronic surveillance, much of which was taking place in the US, a growing chorus called for some level of oversight, which President Obama will be addressing on Friday.  DoJ critics have cited the spying on AP journalists as potential abuse of the agency’s power.