Another day, another claim that the National Security Agency has been dipping into things in ways that you might not expect: A German magazine report says that a special NSA team was in charge of boosting data in extra-sneaky ways, including intercepting computer deliveries in order to rig them with espionage hardware before they reached the customer/targets.
Der Spiegel‘s report claims that the NSA division called Tailored Access Operations was in charge of the ungettable gets, the hardest targets that needed special hackers to crack tough cases. The report quotes an anonymous intelligence official as saying that TAO had gathered “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen,” reports the Associated Press.
In what sounds like a story from a spy movie, the report claims that TAO used high-tech gadgetry like computer monitor cables that track what’s going onto the screen and USB sticks with special transmitters that could send data back to the NSA.
In order to get access to personal electronics like computers, the report says the NSA would grab electronics while they were on the way to their destinations and fit them with special espionage software in secret workshops, and then send them on to their intended recipients.
The report also says the NSA even spied on Microsoft, using its crash reports to help spies exploit weaknesses in computers that run Windows. The NSA seemed to have fun with this, the report alleges, replacing Microsoft’s usual error report message with: “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint (signals intelligence) system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.”
Makes you want to read those error messages a bit closer, eh? Meanwhile, Microsoft says any info customers send with those reports isn’t anything to worry about.
“Microsoft does not provide any government with direct or unfettered access to our customer’s data,” a company representative said.. “We would have significant concerns if the allegations about government actions are true.”
Report: NSA intercepts computer deliveries [Associated Press]