Human Rights

NSA's Massive Cyber-Spying Efforts Called "Superhuman"

Hard drives from almost all manufacturers are infected with stealth eavesdropping programs.

A leading software security company has suggested that the U.S. Government is behind the spyware it has found in the hard drives of numerous consumers, and that this stealth software may be part of the most sophisticated international cyber-surveillance program ever seen. And computers may have been infected with this software as far back as 2001.

Reuters reports that the U.S. National Security agency is likely behind the survelliance, claiming that the intelligence agency has become adept at hiding its programs on the hard drives made by top manufacturers such as Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, Maxtor, Hitachi and Toshiba. Combined, these hard drive manufacturers make nearly 100% of hard-drive storage devices. This gives the NSA the capability of spying on the vast majority of the world’s computers, according to cybersecurity experts and former covert operatives.  

Beyond hard drives, Kapersky found that a spying program was also embedded into the firmware of a Cisco Systems router.

Kapersky Lab, one of the biggest sellers of cyber-security and anti-virus software worldwide, discovered several of the spying programs. The  Moscow-based company, which markets its anti-virus software here in the U.S., says that the programs they found are likely part of some sort of spying operation, but the company did not point fingers at the NSA or the U.S. government. It has found the software in hard drives on more than 500 computers from more than 30 countries, but says that the hidden programs were mostly seen in computers from Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. Kapersky says that the targets appear to be government and military institutions, banks, nuclear laboratories, communications companies, Islamic activists and the media.

Kaspersky released a report of its findings on Monday, and said that it should help those targeted identify the spyware protect themselves. The software was created by an entity dubbed “The Equation Group” by Kapersky. This cyber-spying network is reportedly the most sophisticated ever identified with technical prowess rivaling and perhaps surpassing those of previous spy networks such as Stuxnet and Flame.

High-tech news site, ArsTechnica calls The Equation Group's technical feats used in spying "almost superhuman" and noted that the group used many covert methods to infect computers and smart phones with various operating systems. 

The NSA has not commented to the allegations made in the Reuters report, but this is adds fuel to public concerns that government spying has become too widespread. Documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed how the NSA was gathering massive amounts of data from ordinary individuals not tied or suspected of terrorism. It was also revealed that the U.S. has been spying on allied governments, including Germany.

Civil rights and privacy advocates, along with some foreign governments, have called on the U.S. to reform its cyber-surveillance activities.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.

 

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