A new report on the NSA shows that the controversial agency can access computers even when they’re not connected to the internet.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the NSA has placed software on over 100,000 computers around the world allowing agents to conduct surveillance on the machines using radio frequency technology.
Here’s a breakdown of how the James Bond-esque technology works.
Field agents first insert USB plugs containing tiny transceivers into the target computer. The transceiver then communicates with a briefcase-sized NSA field station that can be placed up to eight miles away from the computer. This station then relays information back to the NSA’s Remote Operations Center. The field station can install malware on the computer as well as import and extract any information agents wish to on the target computer.
NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines described the technology as an “active defense” technique that has not been used on American computers. Among the groups targeted by the technology are the Chinese and Russian militaries, drug cartels, trade institutions at the European Union, and occasionally U.S. partners near war zones like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and India.
“NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against -- and only against -- valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements," Vines said. "In addition, we do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of -- or give intelligence we collect to -- U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line."
Vines' last comment about using intelligence technologies to steal trade secrets is a dig at the Chinese Army. The Chinese Army has been caught many times in the past hacking into American industrial and military computers in order to steal trade secrets and intellectual property. Ironically, U.S. officials have loudly protested each time it’s been discovered that Chinese intelligence has tapped U.S. computers.
A senior U.S. official speaking with the Times said the tracking technology should be thought of in the same way submarines are.
“That is what the submarines do all the time,” the anonymous official said. “They track the adversary submarines”. With digital sureveillance, he concluded, the U.S. tries “to silently track the adversaries while they’re trying to silently track you.”