Report: NSA also able to monitor offline computers

Steven Loeb · January 15, 2014 · Short URL:

New documents show NSA implanting hardware that can monitor devices using radio frequencies

With all of the Snowden leaks that have trickled out over the last six months or so, there was always one consolation that people could still hold onto: sure, the National Security Agency can see what they do when they are online, but what they did while not connected to the Internet was off limits. At least they still had some semblance of privacy!

I think you can tell where I'm going with this, can't you?

Yeah, actually, it turns out that you don't, because the NSA has found a way to monitor your computer even when its not connected to the Internet, according to a new report from the New York Times on Tuesday.

The NSA has the ability to tap into radio frequencies, which are transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards, that are inserted into computers. That means that it can monitor the computer with it being connected to a network. The data is then sent to a "briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target."

There are numerous devices that the NSA can use for this. One, which is called Cottonmouth I, looks like a normal USB plug but actually has a tiny transceiver inside of it. 

The hardware has to be physically inserted into the computer by somebody, be it a either spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user. The program is code-named Quantum, and it has been around since 2008, though there seems to be no evidence that it is being used in the United States. Or at least not yet. 

“N.S.A.’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, told the Times. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

So who is being targeted with this technology? 

Units of the Chinese Army, Russian military networks, systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan.

Remember that story about how the NSA was intercepting computers to install spyware on them? The Times report also stated that software has now been implanted in nearly 100,000 computers around the world.

Ever since Edward Snowden leaked documents outlining the efforts of the NSA to spy on people, both at home and abroad, the Agency has been under intense scrutiny from all corners of the globe. 

President Obama has indicated that he is ready take up some of the recommendations that were outlined by an advisory panel on changing N.S.A. practices last month. The President will announce Friday which of those recommendations he will be accepting.

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