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NSA Spying Includes Wireless Transmitters To Get Data Off 'Air Gapped' Computers
The latest report from the NY Times based on Snowden's revelations seems to jump all over the place, talking about a variety of efforts by the NSA to spy on people. Much of it seems to repeat earlier claims about the NSA's malware program, codenamed QUANTUM. It updates the earlier claims that there are 50,000 QUANTUM-infected computers to claim that the number is now 100,000. However, it also notes that most of the targets are exactly the kinds of things you'd expect the NSA to be spying on: the Chinese and Russian militaries, mainly.

Perhaps more interesting is that it builds on the reporting in Der Spiegel concerning the NSA's catalog of tech tools to infiltrate computers, to tie those back to the QUANTUM program, and note that many of the tools rely not on an internet connection, but on a secretly inserted radio transmitter, which can be picked up by a device in an "oversized suitcase" that can be placed miles away. By itself, none of this is all that surprising, but the documents certainly suggest the NSA is doing this on a larger scale than suspected in the past:
Quote: “What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” said James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”
Again, these activities certainly seem more in line with what you'd expect the NSA to be doing, and raise (yet again) the question of why the NSA needs to "collect it all" when it appears that programs like these can be quite effective in doing targeted surveillance against those actually seeking to attack the US in some manner?

Separately, as the article notes, this has made the US's moral high ground concerning claims that China is doing similar surveillance on the US seem quite questionable. As the article notes, the US's attempted distinction between "national security" and "economic espionage" doesn't make much sense to many.
Quote: When the Chinese place surveillance software on American computer systems — and they have, on systems like those at the Pentagon and at The Times — the United States usually regards it as a potentially hostile act, a possible prelude to an attack. Mr. Obama laid out America’s complaints about those practices to President Xi Jinping of China in a long session at a summit meeting in California last June.

At that session, Mr. Obama tried to differentiate between conducting surveillance for national security — which the United States argues is legitimate — and conducting it to steal intellectual property.

“The argument is not working,” said Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution, a co-author of a new book called “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar.” “To the Chinese, gaining economic advantage is part of national security. And the Snowden revelations have taken a lot of the pressure off” the Chinese.
Of course, if the US were focused on actually increasing security on US computing systems and networks, rather than undermining them with backdoors and vulnerabilities, perhaps we'd be more protected from the Chinese. It's too bad that the NSA hasn't actually been helping on that front at all.



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