NSA programs are far more capable than people once thought – now allowing for the agency to tap into any cellular network in the world – no matter where it’s located.
The NSA has been working diligently to gather as much information as is possible through cellular networks, and mobile technology as the United States network grows larger, and larger. The target audience, this time, according to the latest documents leaked by Edward Snowden suggest that the goal is now, or has been, to reach as far as possible while infiltrating those broad cellular networks. In fact, those documents show that as of two years ago, the NSA had already gathered the technical specifications, and running details from approximately 70% of the estimated 985 mobile networks that exist on the planet.
While the documents do not specifically detail what companies, or entities were inquired about, or infiltrated – as it may be now two years later – they do reveal that operators in China, Iran, and Libya were all a part of this broad operation to collect technical data. The types of data that was gathered from the operation ranged from internal emails to network security flaws.
The documents even go as far as to point out that NSA operations were collecting security weaknesses and network details – like encryptions used by these mobile service operators – to circumvent the encrypted information. The most recent operation that has created this new stir is known as operation AURORAGOLD. The operation likely lasted several years, and impacted a wide-range of companies and individuals – inside and outside the United States.
Ultimately, it wasn’t until 2013 when Edward Snowden was ‘found out’ and forced to leave the country – and assume a life in Russia thanks to his leaking of confidential documents used by the NSA. That being said, as the leak occurred and the information involved became apparent, it became clearer and clearer that what the United States was after was a type of global surveillance. This global surveillance meant the revelation that the NSA actually spied on allies of the United States in addition to those who posed a threat.
The NSA has also been harshly criticized for their continued collection of domestic telephone records. Even private individuals were not safe from the reach of the NSA – and it has appeared as though there is no agency in the world that is doing more to gather more information about what people, corporations, and even other governments are doing.
The major threat though, according to those who work in encryption and the mobile security space is the notion of adding bugs, or flaws to a system – in order to take advantage of it down the road.
Ultimately, this makes the risk that an outside force could potentially infiltrate those same flaws. According to Karsten Noh, who is a smartphone security expert noted that “Even if you love the NSA and you say you have nothing to hide, you should be against a policy that introduces security vulnerabilities, because once NSA introduces a weakness, a vulnerability, it’s not only the NSA that can exploit it.”
It’s unclear what, if any, impact this will have on the global scale moving forward.