NSA spies on every cell phone company in the world, new data shows

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The United States National Security Agency has spied on virtually every cell phone manufacturer and provider in the world in an attempt to uncover security weaknesses that can be exploited for surveillance, according to newly leaked data. It also appears that the NSA has worked to sabotage the technical security features of commercial telecommunications systems in order to be able to spy on their users. The documents were released on Thursday by The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher, who said he acquired them from American defector and former NSA computer technician Edward Snowden. The documents reveal the existence of an NSA project codenamed AURORAGOLD, which appears to have been operational since at least 2010. It has targeted telephone companies in virtually every country in the world, including in the US, as well as in nations closely aligned with Washington, such as Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, France and New Zealand. The project has been carried out by at least two separate NSA units, whose existence appears to have been publicly disclosed for the first time. One is the Wireless Portfolio Management Office, which is tasked with outlining and implementing the NSA’s strategy for penetrating wireless telecommunications systems. The other is the Target Technology Trends Center, whose mission is to track the development of emerging communications technologies so as to detect security innovations that could prevent the NSA from spying on their users. The leaked documents show that, as of late spring of 2012, the NSA had collected detailed technical information on nearly 70 percent of the world’s cellular telecommunications networks and was preparing to spy on the email accounts of their employees. The goal was to acquire technical blueprints and other planning papers that could help the NSA penetrate those networks. According to Gallagher, the broad scope of AURORAGOLD appears to be aimed at “ensuring virtually every cellphone network in the world is NSA-accessible”. But the publication quotes leading cellphone security experts who express strong skepticism over the NSA program. One of them, the University of Virginia’s Karsten Nohl, warns against any policy that aims to deliberately install security vulnerabilities on telecommunications networks. “Once NSA introduces a weakness, a vulnerability, it’s not only the NSA that can exploit it”, he says. Another security expert, F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen, cautions that criminals and spies from every country could be among AURORAGOLD’s “inadvertent beneficiaries”. The Intercept spoke to an NSA spokeswoman, who said the Agency was committed to ensuring “an open, interoperable and secure global Internet”. But she declined to discuss AURORAGOLD.

US spy agencies weigh in on telephone contracting deal

Ericsson TelecommunicationsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A host of American intelligence agencies are intervening to discourage a business deal that would see a vital aspect of the United States telephone network end up under the control of a European telecommunications firm. The contracting agreement concerns the administration of the US routing network, designed in the late 1990s as a kind of traffic controller of America’s deregulated and fragmented telephone system. The routing network ensures centralized access to pen-register data, which reveal the time, duration, telephone numbers and subscriber information associated with each telephone call. Because of that, the routing system is seen as a vital tool by American law enforcement and intelligence agencies that engage in state-sponsored communications interception. Although the routing control system is supervised by the US government’s Federal Communications Commission, its maintenance has been sub-contracted since the mid-1990s to a small Virginia-based private company called Neustar. Now, however, the FCC is apparently considering transferring the administration of the routing network to Ericsson Telecommunications, a Swedish firm that says it can do Neustar’s job more efficiently for a reduced cost to the government. As can be expected, Neustar objects to Ericsson’s bid, arguing that awarding the American telephone system’s administration to a foreign firm could have “unwarranted and potentially harmful” effects on American security. The company claims that the FCC is focusing solely on the financial aspect of the deal, while ignoring national security concerns. Neustar’s warnings are being echoed by a host of American intelligence agencies, who say they depend on the Virginia-based company for access to telephone data in the course of their investigations. They claim that, by allowing a non-American company to access the US routing system, surveillance data relating to national security investigations could be compromised. In a recent article, The New York Times quoted “current and former intelligence officials” as saying that they were “concerned that the government’s ability to trace reams of phone data could be hindered” if Ericsson won the contract. They cautioned that this would also hamper criminal and terrorism investigations. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #805 (analysis edition)

US consulate in Benghazi, LibyaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Should the US be wary of Huawei? Regular readers of intelNews know that this blog has been covering the subject of Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei for several years now. During the past few weeks, the United States Congress has flagged the company as being too closely associated with the Chinese intelligence establishment. Other countries have done so as well. But not everyone agrees. New York-based newspaper The Wall Street Journal said recently that “bashing Chinese companies on national security grounds seems like a risk-free strategy” for US politicians and added that, unlike Congress, American governors and mayors are eager to promote investment by Chinese companies. Moreover, Wired‘s Marcus Wohlsenemail suggests that, spies or no spies, US telecommunications companies should fear Huwaei, which is here to stay.
►►Should CIA share some of the blame for Benghazi? For the last month, the US media and Congress have been grilling the State Department for the security failures during the deadly assault on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya. But what if the State Department is the wrong target of scrutiny? According to a counter-theory advanced recently by The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, the CIA, not the State Department, bears some responsibility for the security lapse that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, but is flying under the radar due to the classified nature of its activities in Libya.
►►Could unmanned drones go rogue? Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have been in the news a lot lately: the US Congress has given the green light for their use by state and local law enforcement, academic researchers, and the private sector. UAVs are rapidly becoming a new tool in patrolling US borders and in NATO military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But non-state actors, including organized criminal gangs and drug cartels, may also be seeing the benefits of UAVs before too long. Read an interesting analysis piece that includes comments by intelNews‘ own Joseph Fitsanakis.

White House review ‘found no evidence’ of Huawei spying for China

Huawei TechnologiesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A review commissioned by the government of the United States has reportedly found no evidence that Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei Technologies spied for the Chinese government. The 18-month-long review, which was ordered directly by the White House, examined the question of security vulnerabilities posed by telecommunications hardware suppliers, which could theoretically harm US service providers and pose a danger to US national security. The report, which was allegedly aided by several US intelligence agencies and other federal government departments, was based on detailed interviews with nearly 1,000 telecommunications equipment consumers across the United States. It was concluded at the start of 2012, but remains largely classified. However, Reuters news agency cites “two people familiar with the probe”, who claim that the probe contains “no clear evidence” that Huawei spied for the government of China. At the same time, however, the probe concluded that Huawei telecommunications hardware contains numerous structural vulnerabilities which could help hackers exploit telecommunications networks supported by the Chinese company. According to one source quoted by Reuters, the White House report found that the telecommunications hardware sold by Huawei was “riddled with holes”. Read more of this post

Situation Report: Samsung accuses LG of corporate espionage

Samsung smartphones on display in KoreaBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
Most technology companies spar with rivals over patent portfolio infringement, pricing arrangements, bundling of products and services with partners, and other trade practices. More recently, technology companies have been waging a war for talent and human capital. But in Korea, a dispute between Samsung and LG Electronics has been taken to a new level with Samsung publicly accusing LG of conducting corporate espionage. According to VenterBeat, Samsung has leveled corporate espionage charges against an employee at LG regarding particularly sensitive display technology that is used in smartphones and other mobile devices. This technology is of great value to Samsung, as its displays are used in nearly 98 percent of mobile phones around the globe. The critical display technology, active-matrix organic light-emitting diode, or MOLED, technology, is an extremely thin-film, which is a lynchpin technology for televisions and mobile devices. This technology replaced previously existing display technologies because it required significantly less power and therefore less battery drain and it also increased response rates to mere milliseconds. Such technology was perfectly positioned to help spur on the proliferation of the mobile and smartphone boom. Read more of this post

Did cell phone companies help India spy on the United States?

Page from the Lords of Dharamraja document leakBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Leaked documents acquired by a computer hacker collective appear to show that international cell phone manufacturers helped Indian intelligence agencies spy on the United States, in return for access to the Indian cellular phone market. The documents, which are written in English, were posted online on Saturday by a group of Indian hackers calling themselves Lords of Dharamraja. In a statement, the group said they obtained the documents by breaking into the computer servers of Indian Military Intelligence, after managing to acquire the source code of Symantec Corporation, makers of Norton antivirus software. According to the documents, the companies arm-twisted to assist Indian intelligence agencies to spy on the US included Apple, Nokia, and Research in Motion, the company that builds BlackBerry devices. The documents also appear to show that Indian intelligence agencies were particularly eager to spy on the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Established by the US Congress in 2000, the Commission is tasked with researching and reporting on the national security implications of bilateral trade between the US and China. Allegedly, the cellular telephone makers provided Indian intelligence agencies with backdoor access to personal phones used by Commission members. These back doors allegedly allowed the Indian Military Intelligence Directorate and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation to spy on Commission members beginning in April of 2011. Read more of this post

Nixon White House may have bugged Pentagon leadership

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Everyone familiar with American political history knows about the ‘White House Plumbers’, a covert special investigations unit established during the Presidency of Richard Nixon, and tasked with spying on his political opponents. The unit’s bungled attempt to burgle the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee, in 1972, eventually led to Nixon’s resignation. But the Watergate burglary was but one of many operations conducted by the ‘Plumbers’, who were one of several ‘dirty tricks’ units managed by the Nixon White House. Now, nearly 40 years after the Watergate scandal erupted, veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein provides new information that suggests the Nixon White House may have bugged the Pentagon telephones of senior American military officials. Stein managed to track down Dave Mann, a former member of the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Force, who in 1971 stumbled upon a classified report claiming that listening bug signals had been detected emanating from offices in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The signals had been picked up by a technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM) team during a routine sweep of the Pentagon, in search of unauthorized interception devices. Mann run some tests to verify the TCM team’s report, and discovered that the bug signals originated from the personal office telephone line of General William Westmoreland, who was then the US Army’s Chief of Staff. He also discovered that the telephone of his assistant had been compromised, as well as the telephone lines belonging to the US Army’s assistant secretary, its logistics director, and at least one general. Mann’s personal conclusion was that the phone lines were most likely bugged with the cooperation of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, which was at that the time considered an operational wing of the FBI, under Director J. Edgar Hoover. Read more of this post


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