How the NSA Targets Those with 'Keys to Digital Kingdoms'

October 21, 2020 0 By HearthstoneYarns

The latest reporting from The Intercept reveals how individuals across the world who work as ‘system administrators’ for computer and online networks had their personal computers and digital information targeted by National Security Agency hacking units as a way for the agency to gain access to the systems they controlled.

“Our ability to pull bits out of random places of the Internet, bring them back to the mother-base to evaluate and build intelligence off of is just plain awesome!” —NSA employee

Though those targeted were not suspected of any wrong doing whatsoever, internal NSA documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that these people, called “sys admins” for short, had their email and Facebook accounts tracked as the government hackers tried to access their “network maps, customer lists, [and] business correspondence.”

The overall effort by the NSA relates to previously reported programs based on Snowden documents that show efforts by the US surveillance agency and their British counterparts at the GCHQ to gain direct access to “foreign network routers” and other digital systems without the companies or governments who control those networks knowing. “Who better to target than the person that already has the ‘keys to the kingdom’?” asks one NSA-employed hacker in a post cited by The Intercept.

Strikingly, according to the reporting by journalists Ryan Gallagher and Peter Maass, these internal NSA “posts” were written by an individual NSA employee thought to be a contract “network specialist” with a highly “boastful and casual tone,” describing how bits of personal data—like “pictures of cats in funny poses with amusing captions”—could also be harvested alongside information related to the professional work of the targeted sys admin. The posts are full of “hacker jargon (pwn, skillz, zomg, internetz)” and “punctuated with expressions of mischief” such as “Current mood: devious.” Another reads: “Current mood: scheming.”

Gallagher and Maass report:


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