Journalist Glenn Greenwald redacted a report, published by the Guardian on Tuesday, proving that the National Security Agency intercepted US-made networking equipment shipments. They were implemented backdoor access capabilities and send back to their intended overseas recipients.
The document cited by Greenwald, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is dated from June 2010 and is supposed to be expedited by the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development group.
“The NSA routinely receives — or intercepts — routers, servers, and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers,” Greenwald writes. “The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users.”
When it’s connected to the Internet, the networking equipment that has been hacked phones home to servers controlled by NSA. “In one recent case, after several months a beacon implanted through supply-chain interdiction called back to the NSA covert infrastructure,” Greenwald quotes the reportleaked by NSA. “This call back provided us access to further exploit the device and survey the network.”
Greenwald’sNSA router-backdoor report was synchronized to appear in the same day as his book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.This synthesizeshis work with filmmaker Laura Poitras to publish the lion’s share of the files leaked to date by Snowden.
After the report was published, some questions were raised if shipping firms and technology manufacturers are willing or are legally forced to work with the equipment interception program of NSA.
We don’t know how often this method is being used as Snowden told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post last year that for eavesdroppingthe NSA chooses larger infrastructures for hacking “We hack network backbones — like huge Internet routers, basically — that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he told the Post.
However, security expert Bruce Schneier warned last year also about the fact that the NSA was hacking networking equipment “The NSA also attacks network devices directly: routers, switches, firewalls, etc.,” he said. “Most of these devices have surveillance capabilities already built in; the trick is to surreptitiously turn them on.”
The Greenwald report cast also new light on the warning made last year by former CIA director, Michael Hayden, who accused Huawei – biggest Chinese telecom equipment builder – of gathering data for the Chinese government. The NSA tactics and how this affects the privacy rights of non-US citizens is something that will be debated in the days following this report.
Some information security experts about keeping in context the NSA’s programs “This is the problem with Greenwald: his inept analysis created a whole new urban mythology about who did what to whom,” says via Twitter Thomas H. Ptacek, principal at Matasano Security.
Hayden confirms what the NSA leaks already revealed, that the United States is hacking foreign targets. Although the idea is the same, Hayden sees differently his country’s efforts “I fully admit: we steal other country’s secrets. And frankly we’re quite good at it,” he said. “But the reason we steal these secrets is to keep our citizens free, and to keep them safe. We don’t steal secrets to make our citizens rich. Yet this is exactly what the Chinese do.”