Snowden documents reveal massive malware-based NSA surveillance effort

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The NSA is using an automated system to infect millions of computers across the globe.

The NSA is using an automated system to infect millions of computers across the globe with malware that will enable all sorts of advanced surveillance, according to a report by The Intercept, which sources top secret documents provided by Edward Snowden.

The automated system is known as TURBINE and is designed to infect computers worldwide with malware known as ‘implants,' according to the article, which explains how this was previously an initiative reserved for surveillance of hundreds of hard-to-reach targets.

The implants are designed to carry out specific tasks, including logging keystrokes, turning on microphones and recording audio, activating webcams and taking photographs, obtaining logs of web browsing histories and credentials, and extracting data from flash drives attached to computers, according to the report.

The initiative ultimately enables the NSA to acquire data from international phone and web networks, with the NSA hacking infrastructure reportedly operating from “eavesdropping bases” in Maryland, the U.K. and Japan, according to the article, which states the GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, played a key role in development of the program.

The article reveals that the NSA used fake Facebook servers and malware-laced spam emails to deliver the implants and infect targeted computers, and adds the NSA could launch attacks through tampering of downloads or website access denial.

At the core of all this is a programmed aspect known as the “Expert System,” which acts as a brain, controlling the malware implants and ultimately deciding what are the best tools needed to extract data, the report indicates.

In a Wednesday email correspondence, Andrew Jaquith, CTO and senior vice president of cloud strategy with SilverSky, told SCMagazine.com that he has no problem with the NSA conducting offensive warfare against the nation's enemies.

“Some of those actions will likely require the cyber-equivalent of subterfuge, deception and camouflage,” Jaquith said. “I'd put the ‘implants' in the bag of tricks that you would expect them to have to help them fulfill their mission.”

But those tactics can only be stretched so far.

“The bag of tricks should best – and I suspect, legally – be used only in targeted campaigns against known adversaries,” Jaquith said. “I do not think broad, sweeping dragnets that ensnare millions of users are anywhere close to 'targeted.'”

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