NSA used radio waves to access computers without Internet connections

JC Torres - Jan 15, 2014, 1:53 am CST
NSA used radio waves to access computers without Internet connections

In what could be best described as a conspiracist’s, especially the tinfoil wearing kind, worse nightmare come true, the NSA was reported to have been employing years-old technology to aid its spying missions. Using only radio transmission, the agency has been able to infiltrate and collect data even from computers that have been walled off from the Internet.

More and more of the NSA’s activities and methods are slowly being revealed as the world continues to put the security, some say spying, agency under a microscope. One of the latest scandals to rock the news involves the DROPOUTJEEP malware that can be used to gain full control of an iPhone. Apple has, of course, denied any involvement, but, as always, the NSA’s power is always more far-reaching than anyone can imagine.

Technology using radio frequencies is definitely nothing new, but when combined with the power and influence of a government like the US, it can have very devastating effects. Several of these have been published by European news and bear names that seem to come straight out of a spy movie. Cottonmouth I resembles a USB plug but inside is a transceiver that can gather information from the computer. One variant resembles a circuit board that can easily be slipped into a laptop. These devices transmit data to relay stations, called Nightstand, that can be conveniently stowed away inside large briefcases as far as 8 miles.

Of course, these spying devices don’t automatically attach themselves to computers and require some amount of human intervention, either from user ignorance, undercover agents, or, worse, collusion with hardware manufacturers. That last bit might sound a bit ironic, if not hypocritical, considering that the US has accused China of using Chinese companies, in particular Huawei, to distribute hardware that can be used for spying. The difference, according to the US government, is that the US only spies for the sake of national security and only gathers data related to that end, while China is concerned with stealing trade secrets as well.

There might still be a ray of hope soon, if but only a little. President Obama is expected to announce this weekend what recommendations he will be accepting to limit the NSA’s powers. The advisory panel has taken to heart calls from members of Silicon Valley to curtail the NSA’s massive reach, not exactly on moral grounds. These Silicon Valley executives fear that the NSA’s continued use of certain techniques might backfire and lead to a global loss of confidence and trust in American products and services. The advisory panel believes that it is more prudent to utilize those knowledge and techniques to strengthen the US’ defenses rather than to attack others.

SOURCE: New York Times

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