As Congress and the CIA continue their once-secret, now-public brouhaha over the spy agency spying on Congressional computers, Americans are learning of the latest way the federal government has been spying on them, and others, according to newly released documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA has reportedly used automated systems to infect user computers with malware since 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing the website The Intercept. At times, the agency pretended to be Facebook to install its malware, according to the reports. Sometimes it just used email spam.
The NSA has been using a program codenamed Turbine to contaminate computers and networks with malware “implants” capable of spying on users, The Intercept reported. Between 85,000 and 100,000 of these implants have been deployed worldwide so far. The agency performed what is known as a “man-on-the-side” attack in which it tricked users’ computers into thinking that they were accessing real Facebook servers, the L.A. Times reported. Once the user had been fooled, the NSA hacked into the computer and extracted data from the hard drive.
Facebook said it had no knowledge of the program, according to the National Journal. It’s no longer possible for the NSA or hackers to attack users that way, Facebook said, but warned that other websites and social networks may still be vulnerable. According to the report, different malware can be used for different tasks, such as:
Use a computer’s microphone to record audio and webcam to take photos.
Record a computer’s Internet browsing history.
Record login details and passwords used for Web services.
Log users’ keystrokes.
Extract data from flash drives when they are plugged into infected computers.
So, in other words, malware for all the NSA’s spying needs. When the NSA first began infecting computers with malware in 2004, it would do so manually, according to the report. How far they’ve come with their technology!
The ongoing reports about spying, the invasions of privacy and the apparent ditching of the liberties for which America is supposed to stand are chilling. It’s all the more maddening to know that none of this spying did anything to prevent the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings last year by “homegrown terrorists,” despite an alert issued about them.
A congressional hearing last year revealed that the FBI did not tell the Boston police about the 2011 Russian warning about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers accused in the bombings that killed three people and injured 264.
Without reform of our “security” agencies, all the spying in the world isn’t likely to add up to anything but hundreds of thousands of ongoing random violations of privacy.