NSA spy program targets mobile networks worldwide

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show evidence of previously undisclosed operations

The NSA has conducted a covert campaign to intercept internal communications of operators and trade groups in order to infiltrate mobile networks worldwide, according to the latest revelations from documents supplied by Edward Snowden.

The U.S. National Security Agency ran two hitherto undisclosed operations, the Wireless Portfolio Management Office and the Target Technology Trends Center, operating under the aegis of a program called Auroragold, according to an last week in The Intercept, which also published related documents.

The operations closely monitored the GSM Association, maintained a list of 1,201 email targets, or selectors used to intercept internal company communications, and gathered information about network security flaws. The NSA documents show that as of May 2012 the agency had collected technical information on about 70 percent of the estimated 985 mobile phone networks worldwide.

Other than mentions of operators in Libya, China, and Iran, names of the targeted companies are not disclosed in the documents supplied by Snowden, an ex-NSA contractor now living in Russia. Intercept founding editors Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras were instrumental in helping Snowden leak NSA documents to the public through various media outlets.

The NSA operations collected information in so-called IR.21 documents used by GSMA members to report security weaknesses and details about the encryption used by mobile operators, according to the Snowden documents. The NSA used this information to circumvent encrypted communications, according to the documents.

The NSA did not respond to a request for comment on the documents.

Since June 2013, documents leaked by Snowden have led to a series of reports on the extent of the NSA's covert spying on Internet and telecom networks worldwide. The documents have also shown that the NSA has hacked into emails of leaders of U.S. allies as well as into networks and equipment of foreign companies including China-based Huawei.

Last year a series of articles in ProPublica, The Guardian and The New York Times disclosed that the NSA had been working for years to weaken security standards to help the U.S. governments massive surveillance programs. The articles for example indicated that a crypto random-bit generator known called Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator was deliberately subverted by NSA cryptographers working to develop and promulgate standards that would allow the creation of back doors in security products.

Documents leaked by Snowden last year also show the NSA can capture GSM traffic that's encrypted with the A5/1 algorithm.

The documents published by The Interceptor Saturday follow November reports by Symantec and Kaspersky Labs that malware dubbed Regin, quite possibly developed by the U.S.,

at least for the last six years targeted mainly GSM cellular networks to spy on governments, infrastructure operators, research institutions, corporations, and private individuals.

In addition to its covert operations, the NSA runs widely criticized domestic bulk telephone records collection program. Last month, NSA Director Michael Rogers said the agency is planning no major changes in its domestic telephone records collection program after a bill to curb those efforts failed in the Senate.

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Marc Ferranti

IDG News Service
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