NSA AURORAGOLD ops aimed to weaken all cellphone networks

When your job involves spying on other people's conversations, it is in your best interest that such lines of communications remain open to your snooping. That is pretty much the principle used in one of NSA's operations, codenamed AURORAGOLD, that virtually aimed to weaken the world's networks so that it will always have a backdoor to use, no matter the country. This is just one of the latest revelations unearthed from the documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden regarding the NSA's almost godlike power and reach.

By now, many of the NSA's activities and methods have been brought to light, but this more recent analysis has an even bigger and potentially more dangerous side effect. The NSA has been revealed to not only have spied on communications, both abroad and in the country, but it also specifically targeted communications between companies and organizations that are charged with actually securing phone networks against such activities.

The principle is simple really. Spy on networks and their employees in order to remain abreast of the latest developments in security and encryption. If possible, covertly work to actually introduce vulnerabilities or at least keep vulnerabilities from being patched up. This way, the NSA will always be in the loop and won't be caught unaware of the latest developments and technologies that would curtail its powers. AURORAGOLD is carried out by still undisclosed NSA units, like the Target Technology Trends Center, whose motto is ominously "Predict, Plan, Prevent".

According to leaked materials, one of the prime targets of AURORAGOLD is the GSM Association, a UK-based global trade group made up of more than 800 companies spread out in 220 countries, including the US. The GSMA takes it upon itself to develop technologies and policies to protect consumers, as well as businesses, and is therefore ripe for AURORAGOLD's purposes. The organization has yet to make a formal statement or any legal action, pending analysis of the leaked documents.

Thanks to AURORAGOLD, the NSA, as well as other members of the "Five Eyes" surveillance alliance (UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), have been able to break the most commonly used cellphone encryption algorithm, the A5/1. The more recent and stronger version, the A5/3, is now the target of their efforts. But no matter how the NSA claims its purpose is to actually protect the country and its allies, AURORAGOLD actually exposes the country to danger even more. Any backdoor that the NSA creates or keeps open is practically available for terrorists or other governments to use.

Without openly admitting the existence of AURORAGOLD, President Obama directed the NSA not to take action, or inaction, that would weaken software and to even disclose such vulnerabilities to companies. Of course, there's a "but", when clear national security is involved, one that could probably be used and abused as a loophole in the future. The NSA naturally remains silent on the existence or continued existence of operation AURORAGOLD.

SOURCE: The Intercept