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.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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