NSA targets Linux Journal as 'extremist forum': Report

NSA targets Linux Journal as 'extremist forum': Report

Summary: The NSA is targeting the Linux Journal as an "extremist forum" and flagging its readers as 'extremists', according to source code leaked to German public broadcaster, ARD.

TOPICS: Security, Linux

The Linux Journal, a Linux user community website, has been flagged as an "extremist forum" by the United States' National Security Agency (NSA), while its users have been flagged as "extremists" under the agency's XKeyscore program, according to leaked source code.

The source code, which was published this week by German public broadcaster, ARD, also identified at least two German Tor Directory Authority servers — one in Berlin, the other in Nuremberg — as being under surveillance by the NSA.

The Tor Project is an independent, open-source anonymous software and browsing network that directs traffic through its free, worldwide, volunteer network to conceal users' locations and usage from surveillance.

According to an ARD report, the source code indicates that the German Tor servers are just two among a number of servers that have been targeted by the NSA for surveillance, under its XKeyscore program. The code cites a number of specific IP addresses of the Tor Directory Authority.

The NSA's XKeyscore program is a collection and analysis tool, and was one of a number of surveillance programs revealed in the documents leaked by former NSA contractor and whistleblower, Edward Snowden, last year.

The XKeyscore source code rules cite the terms 'TAILs' or 'Amnesiac Incogneto Live System', along with one of either 'linux', 'USB', 'CD', 'secure desktop', 'IRC', 'truecrypt', and 'Tor' as search items that will mark and track a track the IP address of the person doing the search.

In fact, the source code rules refer to the TAILs software system — a Linux distribution designed to push outgoing connections through the Tor network — as a "cosmec mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums". 

ARD said the XKeyscore rules also show that the NSA tracks all connections to a server hosting part of an anonymous email service at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the US, while also reporting details about visits to the Linux Journal — which it also calls "extremist".

Reports suggest this is the first time that XKeyscore's own source code has been published, and according to ARD, it reveals that it is not only German privacy software users who are being tracked by the NSA, but also privacy software users worldwide.

The source code contains a number of rules enabling agents using XKeyscore to conduct surveillance of Tor users around the world.

"Months of investigation by the German public television broadcasters NDR and WDR (ARD), drawing on exclusive access to top secret NSA source code, interviews with former NSA employees, and the review of secret documents of the German government reveal that not only is the server in Nuremberg under observation by the NSA, but so is virtually anyone who has taken an interest in several well-known privacy software systems," said the ARD report.

However, the source code also reveals that users residing within the 'Five Eyes' — the international alliance comprising the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada — are exempt from surveillance under the XKeyscore program.

It is not clear how ARD obtained the NSA source code, and the broadcaster made no mention in its report of Snowden, or the documents leaked.

The authors of the ARD investigation include Jacob Applebaum and Aaron Gibson, both of whom are paid employees of the Tor Project, along with Leif Ryge, who is a volunteer contributor to Tor-related software projects.

In response to ARD's queries relating to the details uncovered in the Xkeyscore source code, the NSA provided a statement that said XKeyscore is a tool that forms part of the NSA's "lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system", and has "stringent oversight and compliance mechanisms".

"NSA collects only what it is authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence purposes — regardless of the technical means used by foreign intelligence targets," it said. "The communications of people who are not foreign intelligence targets are of no use to the agency."

The statement also said that the use of XKeyscore allows the NSA to help defend the nation and protect US and allied troops abroad, adding that "all of NSA's operations are conducted in strict accordance with the rule of law".

Topics: Security, Linux


Leon covers enterprise technology and start-ups from ZDNet's Sydney newsroom.

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  • I use TAILS

    Whee, I guess I'm an extremist.

    Just to be sure, I did some searches for "TAILS linux USB CD secure desktop IRC truecrypt Tor"

    Just remember: When privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy.
    • :x "secure desktop" search

      You should have included "selinux" and "grsecurity" in your "secure desktop" search so that the certain 3-letter agency would know that you were serious.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • I go with Kali Linux and Tor

      Installing Tor in Kali Linux

  • Harrumph!

    I've visited the Linux Journal website a number of times and have posted links to LJ articles here at ZDNet.

    And while I've not used MIT's CSAIL anonymous email service, some of my Debian updates have been provided via the MIT CSAIL Debian mirror.

    Have never used TOR.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • OOPS!! I guess not ...

      "users residing within the 'Five Eyes' — the international alliance comprising the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada — are exempt from surveillance under the XKeyscore program."
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Really ?

        the international alliance comprising the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada — are exempt from surveillance under the XKeyscore program

        and you believe them ?
        Alan Smithie
        • I do

          But, I also believe that Linux fans residing in one of the 5 eyes should consider becoming a member of the Linux Journal in support of the Linux Journal itself as well as Linux fans that do not reside in one of the 5 eyes.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Excellent suggestion.

            I joined Linux Journal and posted today. As I live in the USA, I figure this is the least I could do.
          • Hope they go after the Chinese handbag spammers, too.

            I gave up posting to the LJ forums a few years ago when I kept seeing more "replies" from the Asian cuties trying to get all of us subscribers to buy their "high-fashion" purses, shoes, accessories, etc (at slave labor discounts of course), than from the "serious" commenters who could spell Linux.
  • NSA targets Linux Journal as 'extremist forum': Report

    I'm not surprised by this. Try talking to a linux user and you will see how extreme they get when you tell them the drawbacks of linux and why its not a good platform. Then add in the word Microsoft for good measure and watch them go completely batty. Its not just linux journal that has the extremists but here on ZDNet as well. I've seen many extreme reactions to my posts.
    • I guess you make the case for being an extremist yourself.

      After all you are an extremist for MS.

      And that would make ZDNet and extremist forum as well.

    • Projection

      Classic example of the psychological phenomenon of projection if there ever was one extant.
      And this particular Poster is no credit to Microsoft and its various endeavours.
    • @LD, Boo hoo!

      Don't be such a crybaby.
    • Off script.

      Loverock, you're off script! Where's your usual blather about the open telnet port and compiling the kernel? That's what you're paid for. Now get back on task.
    • You're extremely funny, LD!

      The highlight of the week was your joke about how tech bloggers are responsible for the failure of Windows 8.

      But I find your "Linux extremist" jokes funny, too!
    • Don't be too hard on LD.

      He is naturally drawn to the NSA, as both of them have the same enemies: Facts and Truths.
    • Extreme reactions to your posts.

      Ignorant statements, such as yours regarding Linux, often provoke extreme reactions. How do I know you are ignorant regarding Linux? Because you have made it clearl you don't know anything about it or how to use it. Remember Loverock, every Linux user knows how to use Windows, On the other hand, there are Windows users, such as yourself, who lack the competence to use Linux.
    • Compare to LinuxHater's blog

      Dunno if that foul-mouth is still "hacking" away (at Linux), but he could comment rather insightfully about Linux shortcomings (I prefer Linux , but other viewpoints are useful at times), but I could not put up with the nasty language after a while - needed to wash my eyes out ;-}. I think he qualified as an anti-Linux extremist. He did really fire up the Linux supporters for some interesting "fireworks" (oops, did that combo trip the XKeyscore algorithms?).
  • NSA hates penguins...

    ... all Pingu watchers are obviously dangerous penguin loving extremists.

    The last three paragraphs of NSAspeak from their pr drones are now hilarious in their lack of self awareness, surely even the droids there must have some idea that the world and dog treat them with the well deserved contempt that they have brought down on themselves, and that their credibility is lower than a GOP politicians moral barometer reading...
    • of course they hate penguins...

      Of course they hate penguins, penguins live in Alaska, and Alaska sometime ago was part of Russia, so of course all penguins, Tux included (Linux pet) are extremist communists!

      And you know, all tux followers are extremist communists! LOL
      Martin Cab