To say that the U.S. National Security Agency has had a tough year risks understatement on an epic level. Following the original reports of the Snowden affair by the Guardian and The Washington Post it seems rarely a week goes by when the NSA’s surveillance program doesn’t put more egg on the face of the Obama administration.
Whether it’s tapping Angela Merkel’s phone and those of other foreign leaders or Saturday’s report by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that claims that the NSA installed malware on over 50,000 computer networks worldwide, the news keeps coming in, and it’s uniformly bad.
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New Dutch claims
Saturday’s report, made possible from Snowden’s whistle blowing/treachery, claims that the NSA hacked into over 50,000 networks while tapping into large fiber optic cables at 20 larger choke points.
It’s believed that the report comes from a 2012 top secret presentation to a group known as the Five Eyes partnership where the NSA detailed its Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) efforts and capabilities. The Five Eyes includes the intelligence services of the United States, Australia, Canada, the U.K. and New Zealand.
NSA use of implants
According to a presentation slide published by NRC, the NSA deployed over 50,000 CNE “implants” world-wide. Seemingly, “Implants” harken up images of cute little ole’ Dolly Parton rather than a virus-riddled computer following a porn-surfing weekend.
In August, The Washington Post reported that a special NSA team known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO) is employed to open-up routers, switches, and routers to grant the NSA access to entire networks.
These “implants” designed by the TAO are apparently immune to both hardware and software upgrades and are used to copy stored data while tunneling into the networks. By the end of the year, the NSA is expected to have over 85,000 in place worldwide.
Additional NSA surveillance
In addition to “implants,” the NSA targets no less than 20 fiber optic junctions outside of the United States. In a joint CIA-NSA operation, the NSA runs over 80 regional Special Collection Service (SCS) used for close surveillance and wiretapping, and liaises with another 30 countries outside of the Five Eyes, and utilizes 52 facilities whose sole purpose is to intercept foreign satellite communications (FORNSAT).