GCHQ's dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online manipulation, Facebook, YouTube snooping

GCHQ's dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online manipulation, Facebook, YouTube snooping

Summary: A fresh set of documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how the UK intelligence agency can manipulate online polls and debates, spread messages, snoop on YouTube and track Facebook users.

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GCHQ in Cheltenham (Image: GCHQ via CNET)

GCHQ has developed a toolkit of software programs used to manipulate online traffic, infiltrate users' computers and spread select messages across social media sites including Facebook and YouTube.

The UK spy agency's dark arts were revealed in documents first published by The Intercept, and each piece of software is described in a wiki document written up by GCHQ's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). The document, which reads like a software inventory, calls the tools part of the agency's "weaponised capability."

Some of the most interesting capabilities of the tools on the list include the ability to seed the web with false information — such as tweaking the results of online polls — inflating pageview counts, censoring video content deemed "extremist" and the use of psychological manipulation on targets — something similar to a research project conducted with Facebook's approval, which resulted in heavy criticism and outrage levied at the social media site.

A number of interesting tools and their short descriptions are below:

  • ASTRAL PROJECTION: Remote GSM secure covert Internet proxy using TOR hidden service
  • POISON ARROW: Safe malware download capability
  • AIRWOLF: YouTube profile, comment and video collection
  • BIRDSTRIKE: Twitter monitoring and profile collection
  • GLASSBACK: Technique of getting a target's IP address by pretending to be a spammer and ringing them. Target does not need to answer.
  • MINIATURE HERO: Active skype capability. Provision of realtime call records (SkypeOut and SkypetoSkype) and bidirectional instant messaging. Also contact lists.
  • PHOTON TORPEDO: A technique to actively grab the IP address of MSN messenger user
  • SPRING-BISHOP: Finding private photos of targets on Facebook
  • BOMB BAY: The capacity to increase website hits, rankings
  • BURLESQUE: The capacity to send spoofed SMS messages
  • GESTATOR: Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (YouTube)
  • SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE: Perfect spoofing of emails from Blackberry targets
  • SUNBLOCK: Ability to deny functionality to send/receive email or view material online
  • SWAMP DONKEY: A tool that will silently locate all predefined types of file and encrypt them on a targets machine
  • UNDERPASS: Change outcome of online polls (previously known as NUBILO).
  • WARPATH: Mass delivery of SMS messages to support an Information Operations campaign.
  • HUSK: Secure one-on-one web based dead-drop messaging platform.

The list, dated from 2012, says that most of the tools are "fully operational, tested and reliable,” and adds: "Don't treat this like a catalogue. If you don't see it here, it doesn't mean we can't build it."

"We only advertise tools here that are either ready to fire or very close to being ready," the document notes.

The release of these documents comes in the same week that the UK intelligence agency's spying activities are being investigated by surveillance watchdog the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). Civil liberty groups set a legal challenge against the GCHQ in order to question the legal standing of schemes such as Tempora — a project revealed in the NSA scandal that showed the agency placed data interceptors on fiber-optic cables that carry Internet traffic to and from the UK.

Topics: Security, Government US, Privacy, Social Enterprise

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25 comments
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  • Are we ready to actually do something about this yet?

    Snowden's strategy of gradual release might turn out to be the right approach.

    Keep trying... maybe on the 500th release of yet another shocking, unconstitutional abuse, people will stop flapping their gums and bring this abhorrent, ugly chapter to an abrupt, emphatic, permanent close.
    Joshua Burns
    • Boiling Frog

      People are too desensitized. Nothing shocks them anymore.
      Lonemusketeer
    • Panoptican Super Surveillance State. Get used to it

      As a general member of American Society I have attempted to keep up with this as it has unfolded for the past year or so. I have a conceptual understanding of the issue at hand.
      This issue is not resonating with the American Public at large to the point that they would demand something be done about. We get the Politicians, Culture, and Internet we deserve. It disgusts me to no end every time I get on the Internet and the thought of what could be possibly running in the background by Corporate and Government entities. Articles such as this are valuable as they help educate as to how this information can be used, I'm sure there is much more where this came from. I for one could live with out the Internet and it's Surveillance Business model if I had to. This mentality permeates the society. I think there will be a general trend toward consolidation and monopolization of network surveillance power.
      Dirk D. Anderson
  • This is newsworthy?

    Is there anyone, particularly in the IT community, who is so naive as to be surprised by ANY of this "news"?

    The "code-names" may be new to those of us not privy to the information, but the capabilities shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, given that NSA and GCHQ missions from day one have been SIGINT.

    @Joshua Burns: What are you going to do about "this"? Honestly? How do you propose to "bring this abhorrent, ugly chapter to an abrupt, emphatic, permanent close."? Bitch and complain about people doing nothing and then re-elect the same politicians that put these systems and organization in place? What can be done? Seriously and practically? Nothing except vote for new people who will remove the systems and tame the organizations, and that never happens.
    SteveStevenson
    • For starters

      Zero people showed up at the last congressional primary in my district.

      A Libertarian was running.

      Zero. My ballot number was 00001.

      There ARE things people can do, that cost nothing and take 5 minutes. Apathy is what is threatening our way of life.
      Joshua Burns
      • I agree

        I couldn't agree more! Apathy is what got us here in the first place I think.

        Get out and vote.
        SteveStevenson
        • Huhh?

          And voting is what got us where we are. The people are the ones who should decide their future and and the running of their own countries, not some individuals that call themselves "people in power". Who gave man the right to own and control what is not his? what he came on the Earth and saw? It's time everyone took a stand for their rights, and get rid off all government.
          zedzedzed
      • the ballot

        Democracy breeds "rational ignorance", because people know there vote has very little influence. It's time to move on from this failed model and toward greater liberty.
        is.5416
      • Complicity

        It's more like people are giving up.
        Lonemusketeer
    • Need Some Sunblockblock!

      Agreed - none of this is news, but nice to have confirmation of all the stuff that was pretty obvious but used as tinfoil bait - mostly by spook cube rats patrolling the net. Annoying, to say the least.

      And speaking of annoying - SUNBLOCK! Man - I've been putting up with that stuff, and it is simply a pain. Many of the "antigovernment" (read real American) sites in the US are being hit with a lot of his stuff, and it has gotten really bad in the last couple of weeks, despite quite a bit of work I do to keep these guys at bay. If you want to experience it, go onto breitbart.com and join in the fun. Have a bit too many upvotes and just wait for them to start hitting you.
      Wolf Moon
  • Time for regime change...

    George Orwell lacked the imagination of our current bunch of tyrannical @holes. Time for a regime change, eh?
    jasonn13
  • The Snowden Mythology

    Here’s something that bugs me about all the stories related to Snowden’s theft of classified data:.. Some sources report that Snowden released new documents, others report their stories are from the stolen materials. There’s a distinct difference and here’s why.

    When Snowden started all this nonsense he said:

    “He gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong, before flying to Moscow, and did not keep any copies for himself. Claiming he did not take the files to Russia “because it wouldn’t serve the public interest,”

    Then there was Snowden’s contradictory statement that:

    I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal.”

    Snowden contradicts himself, by saying “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over…”

    So one way or the other, it’s just confirmation that Snowden is a liar on many levels.

    1) Either he did or did not give away all the documents.
    2) So either he is or is not disclosing more.
    3) Where are all sorts of documents...that I didn’t turn over?

    Then there’s the bonus point re Snowden’s claim:

    “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed…”

    That would be impossible since one person would need years of time to review the millions of documents that were stolen AND disclosed to journalist “He gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalist he met in Hong Kong”.

    So this report’s “Summary” headline that their story is based on raises many questions:

    "A fresh set of documents leaked by Edward Snowden"

    If Snowden has nothing in Russia with him, the point is, there is nothing “fresh” about 14 month old data AND Snowden did NOT LEAK THEM or those “all sorts of documents he didn’t turn over”...are still with him? You decide, something is amiss in the reporting and Snowden’s claims.
    Yeziam12
    • Read Greenwald's book

      It's not that complicated. Obviously, he's not still actively collecting the documents.

      He got them all at once, and gave them to the media for safe-keeping in a highly encrypted format, with the agreement that they would only release them gradually over time.
      Joshua Burns
      • Read Greenwald's Book and buy into the money machine they built...ahhh NO!

        That doesn't explain anything in relation to what I wrote.
        Yeziam12
    • Insurance

      When Snowden releases the last document, his life is forfeit.
      The unreleased documents are his life insurance.
      When dealing with the Chinese and the Russians, you must expect that nothing is what it appears.
      constitution first
  • Redacted

    [This comment deleted by NSA]
    Iambic PentaMaster
  • Snowden...

    Everything online is Tampered with. The Government has BEEN telling us that they plan not to Confront issues but to change the Culture surrounding the issues. Munipulate the People's Hearts and Minds through Propaganda...Its nothing New. IF YOUR CONSERVATIVE! If your the Mindless SHEEP of the LEFT this is all NEW Information...The Cattle being led around by their nose...
    What is Popular..."More Americans Agree With "XXX" We all KNOW that THAT was BULL! because we were SHOCKED! Meanwhile a WHOLE GROUP decided THEY WOULD ABANDON THEIR OWN BELIEFS! dawn the Brown Shirts jack boots and get on board. Then the SUPER RIGHT! So bent on the "Power"...We are the ONLY Country in the WORLD that does NOT PROTECT OUR JOBS OR INDUSTRIES! We SOLD the MIDDLE CLASS OUT! STOP THE IMPORTS! PAY MORE! We are a Country of Excess because of CHEAP IMPORTS A THROW AWAY SOCIETY !
    WITH NO MORAL COMPASS! yes we are AWARE!
    JASONK985@...
    • GCHQ's dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online ...

      the us economy is a mere 15% of the total world economy. without external
      market, the us as we know it will cease to exist. the european union was
      established for the simple reason of pooling the resources of its original
      members to meet headlong with the then big us market (that eventually grew
      to nearly 50% in the 90's), "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_economy."
      the euro economy is now 50% of the total world economy, think about it for a
      moment!!! for the us to stop imports, because "We SOLD the MIDDLE CLASS OUT!
      STOP THE IMPORTS! PAY MORE! We are a Country of Excess because of CHEAP
      IMPORTS A THROW AWAY SOCIETY !", is like committing suicide. the us is no longer
      a manufacturing economy, it is beyond that. the world is now entering
      the so-called information age, and the us is leading the charge full steam
      ahead. "no man is an island," the us is part of the whole and can not survive
      without external market. learn to wean yourselves from brute force economy
      and retrain the young to embrace the new information economy, the ROI is
      bigger and better ...
      kc63092@...
      • Serious?

        What dark place did you pull your numbers from?

        Nominal GDP (IMF 2013 in USD)

        EU - $17.402 trillion (23.23%)
        US - $16.800 trillion (22.43%)

        World - $74.900 trillion (100%)

        Purchasing Power Parity (IMF 2013 in USD)

        US - $16.800 trillion (19.31%)
        EU - $16.261 trillion (18.69%)

        World - $86.995 trillion (100%)
        NFLDolphinsGuy
        • GCHQ's dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online ...

          your numbers are right, the us and eu percentages did not move from the late 90's to the
          present at ~22%. the 50% is supposed to be 25%, thanks for pointing the errors.
          kc63092@...