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.

TOPICS: Security

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  • LOUDAUTO: a tiny, low-power microphone

    LOUDAUTO is just a "bug" in the old sense, a microphone for picking up audio and transmitting it for the NSA (or whomever) to collect. They call it an "audio-based RF retro-reflector."

    It can pick up office-volume audio from over 20 feet away, although perhaps less if concealed. It consumes very little power, which is partly due to the way it retransmits the audio it receives: it passively reflects a digital conversion of the analog audio using a continuous wave signal from a separate, nearby unit.

    LOUDAUTO is built entirely with commercial off-the-shelf hardware. Compared to the hacks of commercial computing equipment, LOUDAUTO sounds almost innocuous. This is the sort of spy stuff the government has been doing for many, many decades.

    (Yes, I agree, this isn't a computer hack and therefore doesn't conform to the title, but I thought it was cool.)

    The document is dated 4/7/2009.



  • NIGHTSTAND: a wifi-based client exploitation system

    No wired network access? No problem! Set up your NIGHTSTAND, hack into the wifi and exploit computers running Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows XP SP1 and Windows XP SP2 along with Internet Explorer 5 or 6.

    NIGHTSTAND is a dedicated Linux Fedora Core 3 computer inside a box with a big antenna that looks like it came off a cell tower. Why? "Use of external amplifiers and antennas on both experimental and operational scenarios have resulted in successful NIGHTSTAND attacks from as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions."

    The description says nothing about the mode of attack, but it's likely that NIGHTSTAND can only work on open or WEP-based wifi networks. Back in 2008 (the document is dated 7/25/2008) this may have been a workable strategy.

    The document is dated 7/25/2008.



  • SPARROW II: A passive Wifi collection device

    A mini-Linux 2.4 device with a PowerPC chip that captures at least 2 hours of wifi data (at which point the battery starts to go). It runs the BLINDDATE application software, whatever that is. It has Mini PCI slots for expansion.

    The document is dated 7/25/2008.



Topic: Security

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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 - 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 Seltzer
  • 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.
    • 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 Seltzer
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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
    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