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NSA implanted software on thousands of computers to spy on Russia, Mexico, other US allies

15 January 2014, 09:28

The US intelligence agency has covertly installed software on nearly 100,000 computers worldwide, allowing it to spy on them, and recruit them for possible cyber attacks, a news report said late Tuesday. Most were installed by the National Security Agency via network connections, but the agency has devised a way of reaching unconnected computers by means of radio waves, the New York Times reported, citing NSA documents, computer experts and officials.

The radio technology, used since 2008, transmits to and from tiny circuit boards installed in the computers either secretly or by unwitting users, sometimes attached to USB sockets, the report said.

The NSA said the system, which could be used to mount cyber attacks from those machines, is more an 'active defence' strategy, it said.

The programme, code-named Quantum, had been used against Russian military networks, and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, EU trade bodies and some countries collaborating with the United States against terrorists, according to the report.

'The combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the US a window it's never had before,' James Andrew Lewis, cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, was quoted as saying.

There were no signs of either the software or radio-wave hardware being used inside the US, the report said.

An NSA spokeswoman was quoted as saying the agency's activities were only deployed against 'valid foreign intelligence targets.'

The Stuxnet cyber attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, discovered in 2010, is thought to have been the first field trial of the technology, the report said.

US President Barack Obama was due Friday to announce changes to NSA activities, after reviewing advice from a panel that considered industry complaints that some practices were undermining foreign markets' confidence in US-based technology and digital communications services.

NSA uses radio waves to spy on offline computers - report

The National Security Agency is using secret wireless technology that allows it to access and alter data on computers, even when they are not connected to the Internet, according to a New York Times report. Since 2008, the agency has been increasingly using 'a covert channel of radio waves' that can transmit from hardware installed in the computers.

The transmitters are inserted secretly during manufacturing, by agents in the field or by an unwitting user. In some casse the data is then sent to a briefcase-size relay station 'as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions'. The stations create a link between the target computers and the NSA.

The NSA has also installed surveillance software on nearly 100,000 computers around the world, according to the Times. The newspaper said the Chinese Army was a frequent target of such technology but said there was no evidence that the agency used either technology inside the US.

"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," James Andrew Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the paper.

Among the most frequent targets of the NSA and US Cyber Command, the Times reported, has been the Chinese Army. The United States has accused the Chinese Army of launching regular attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. When Chinese attackers have placed similar software on computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, the newspaper reported.

The NSA says the technology has not been used in computers in the US.

Other Quantum targets include Russian military networks, systems used by Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions within the European Union and even allies like Saudi Arabia, according to American officials and NSA materials that show sites that the agency calls "computer network exploitation."

The NSA would not discuss the devices despite publication of the documents describing them by the European news outlets.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of US House lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require President Obama to unveil budget figures for all 16 spy agencies. The secretive "black budget" for US intelligence agencies was reported to be $53 billion for fiscal year 2013, based on documents from Snowden reported by The Washington Post.

Voice of Russia, dpa, RT, belfasttelegraph.co.uk, news.cnet.com, todayonline.com

Source: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/ 2014_01_15/NSA-implanted-software- on-thousands-of-computers-to-spy-on-Russia- Mexico-other-US-allies-5845/

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