Top NSA hacks of our computers

Top NSA hacks of our computers

Summary: The latest leaked documents from the NSA reveal a long collection, from 2007-2008, of software and hardware used to spy on computers, networks and to capture audio and video.

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TOPICS: Security
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  • TOTECHASER+TOTEGHOSTLY: Getting inside Windows Mobile

    TOTECHASER and TOTEGHOSTLY are software hacks aimed at Windows Mobile devices. Windows Mobile never had a lot of traction in consumer markets, but there were narrow markets where it did quite well, including ruggedized phones and, as is the case with TOTECHASER, satellite phones.

    TOTECHASER is an implant for the Windows CE kernel inside Windows Mobile, specifically targeting the Thuraya SG-2520 dual-mode GSM/SAT handset (discontinued). Either this model was very popular or the NSA had someone specific in mind.

    The TOTECHASER writeup makes it clear that it's not fully-baked (the documents are dated 10/1/2008). It sounds like it probably needs installed before the customer gets it and they haven't figured that part out.

    TOTEGHOSTLY is a higher-level remote control framework for compromised (perhaps by TOTECHASER) Windows Mobile devices.

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  • CANDYGRAM: Roaming into hostile territory

    CANDYGRAM is a fake cell tower, built out of a Windows XP system and a cell phone. It can be configured for a pre-set list of up to 200 phone numbers. When one of those phones comes within range of CANDYGRAM, it sends an SMS message to "registered watch phones."

    CANDYGRAM is designed for passive data collection, not attack of the target phones. There are several other tools in the list with various GSM "network in a box" functions.

    The document is dated 6/20/2008.

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  • COTTONMOUTH: Up your Serial Bus

    We've got three devices here: COTTONMOUTH-I, COTTONMOUTH-II and COTTONMOUTH-III, all about compromising systems through USB.

    COTTONMOUTH-I is a smart "jacket" around a USB A plug. It monitors what's on the wire and communicates it either wirelessly to other COTTONMOUTH-1 devices or through a covert channel in the USB wire to STRAITBIZZARE software. COTTONMOUTH-II is a USB port with a built-in tap to communicate with STRAITBIZZARE. There is no wireless component.

    COTTONMOUTH-III is a COTTONMOUTH-II and a tapped Ethernet port. Like COTTONMOUTH-I it has a wireless capability for communicating with other COTTONMOUTH devices and can talk to STRAITBIZZARE over the wire.

    These ports are of the type soldered to the motherboard, and so they have to be installed through an interdiction of the computer or, conceivably, at the factory itself.

    The document is dated 8/5/2008.

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Topic: Security

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8 comments
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  • I'd hardly call them hacks.

    They paid the companies to put in back doors, no hacking skills necessary.
    Jacob VanWagoner
    • Not necessarily

      Even the devices (like COTTONMOUTH-III - http://www.zdnet.com/top-nsa-hacks-of-our-computers_p16-7000024787/#photo) which are soldered to the motherboard could be done without vendor cooperation or knowledge. We know from other documents that they can have shipments diverted to them, contents modified and then forwarded on to the destination. Many of the tools could be applied by IT at the company.
      I'm inclined to believe that very few vendors, as a company decision, would knowingly install any of these tools. It's probably easier for everyone if the NSA bribes or otherwise induces an employee to do it for them, either an employee at the manufacturer, or at a distributor or in company IT.
      larry@...
  • This is why we build our own.

    For military and government contractors, all parts must be made (and assembled) in the USA. Quite simply so China doesn't do this to us.
    gwrankin
    • That can't be true

      There are too many parts not made in the US for that to be true. I didn't think anyone even makes DRAM in the US for a long time, and I bet nobody makes displays
      larry@...
  • If you want something really malicious and dangerous.....

    wait for the volunteers who willingly give their information up and expect you to do the same.
    trm1945
  • Is there anyway to catch such add-ons?

    Without knowing every chip that is supposed to be on a board and thus seeing something that doesn't belong there, how is anyone able to discover such devices or to protect against backdoors in any of the software we purchase?

    I assume there's a backdoor in every Comcast modem/DVR, every email software program, etc. Not that we can do anything about it. . .or can we?
    krettig
  • More incentive to use only companies with no US affiliation

    China is already developing a national Linux version and a national microprocessor. These NSA programs just encourage them to do it more rapidly. And good luck finding a bunch of US-based engineers and computer scientists who know technical Chinese well enough to hack hardware and software written from the ground up in Chinese and can qualify for the necessary US security clearances.
    Rick_R
  • can you help me?

    I'm an American in Beijing and I am being hacked by the same NSA gimmick shown in your article. The the second image in the series of slides at the bottom you see a screen says : internet self service system with an authorization code window
    THIS IS THE EXACT SCENARIO i EXPERIENCED WHEN CHECKING BACK INTO XIJIAO HOTEL ON THURSDAY
    TOOK THE HOTEL TECHNICIAL ONE HOUR TO GET CONNECTIVITY FOR ME
    I'm looking now at your article and I DON'T SEE IT!!!!
    I'm not a crazy paranoid weirdo.
    What is a person supposed to do? Please help me!
    Cheryl Petty