Recent report by Der Spiegel has revealed that TAO, the elite hacking team of NSA, is secretly intercepting laptops and other computer related accessories that are purchased on the internet, as a means of conducting wiretaps as sophisticated as the thrillers of Hollywood show. This report, based on the internal documents of the signals intelligence agency, indicates that NSA is collaborating with the FBI and CIA to routinely intercept shipping deliveries of the electronic goods and diverting the deliveries to their own secret workshops, there bugs are being implanted in the items, by a method known as interdiction, such that malware is being loaded onto the electronics, or malicious hardware is being installed, to in order for the us intelligence agencies to gain remote access.
Although the scope of the program, or the target of NSA for using such wiretaps has not been mentioned by the Der Spiegel report, it gives a distinctive look at NSA’s efforts of collaboration with the wider intelligence body, to get access to equipment of communication. One such product that is used for compromising target electronic items, a hardware implant, has the codename ‘Cottonmouth’, which has been available since the year 2009, to provide remote access to the bugged machine.
The Cottonmouth and other such inception apparatuses, have been described by Der Spiegel as mail-order spy catalogue, which, according to their report, offers a wormhole to prominent hardware and software by Huawei, Samsung, Maxtor, Western Digital, Seagate, Dell, Juniper Networks, Cisco and other such rated technology developers. American companies comprise a largesection of the target list. The error reports from operating system by Microsoft Windows can be exploited by NSA, by the interception of error reports and determination of the problem in the compromised computer, thereby getting the opportunity to attack it with malware like Trojans, as per the reports.
To respond to the report, John Stewart, the senior vice-president of Cisco, wrote, that anything having a potential impact on the integrity of their products or the networks of their customers, was their primary concern. It also mentioned that it has no collaboration with the government in activities that will allow exploitation of their products. Responses to the report have also been received from other US companies. Microsoft called the company an advanced threat of persistent kind, for secretly collecting private data of users, in Yahoo’s and Google’s internal networks.
The report of Der Spiegel, giving a broad look at the operations of TAO, highlights how NSA cooperates with other intelligence bodies for conducting raids that make Hollywood action thrillers look like reality. Contrary to the nature of most of the operations of NSA allowing remote access to its targets, TAO’s activities need physical access to the targets, to gain which, NSA is reportedly collaboration with the FBI and CIA in case of sensitive missions. NSA agents, reportedly, have to fly on FBI for the purpose of planting bugs, to help them reach target on time, and disappear without being detected, even if there is just half an hour of work.
The report has resulted in the NSA being pressurized by privacy advocates, federal courts, public and the Congress, over the application of spying programs, which allegedly include telephone surveillance of the US citizens in bulk, as they are violative of constitutional rights to privacy and protection against unreasonable searches. These were first revealed by Edward Snowden, whose documents also reported the methods of surveillance operations, like the tapping of phones of foreign leaders.