The Scariest Part Of The Latest NSA Revelation Is This Goofy Post-It Note

The Scariest Part of the Latest NSA Revelation Is This Goofy Post-It

The Washington Post reports that, according to new documents leaked by PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has been secretly tapping into the main communication links connecting both Yahoo's and Google's data servers. And you can see it all scribbled — smiley-face included — right here.

The project (which the agency operated in addition to PRISM, not as part of it) is called MUSCULAR, and ran in cooperation with the GCHQ, the NSA's fibre-optic-cable-tapping British counterpart. And this newest revelation is perhaps even more concerning than any that have come before it thus far.

Keeping up with the NSA's lovely proclivity towards PowerPoint, a presentation dubbed "Google Cloud Exploitation" contains the above sketch showing where Google Cloud meets the "Public Internet," which is where their data resides. Pointing to that data-rich chewy center, the drawing remarks that SSL (or any attempts at encryption by Google) are "added and removed here." This is flippantly followed by a smiley face, a discomfortingly cavalier way of denoting the NSA's victory over Google's — and consequently our own — apparently feeble attempts at keeping personal data private.

And with Google and Yahoo being two of the largest online entities in the world, this joint venture is in a position to pull in a lot of secretly stolen data. According to the leaked documents, the NSA is rerouting millions of records from Yahoo's and Google's internal networks to the agency's headquarters at Fort Meade. This, as The Washington Post notes, adds up to a frightening amount of compromised information:

In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — ranging from "metadata," which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.

But unlike PRISM, it seems the companies the NSA has been feeding on for data have not granted the agency permission in these cases. In fact, all of this data collection is allegedly taking place without Google and Yahoo being even remotely aware of what's happening. Google offered the following statement to the Post:

[We are] troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centres, and we are not aware of this activity.

We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.

Yahoo's statement followed suit:

We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centres, and we have not given access to our data centres to the NSA or to any other government agency.

It might be hard to believe that the NSA could make any positive claim to the legality of their actions — until you realise that all this data being collected is taking place overseas. As data from Yahoo and Google is sent around the world, it zips through fibre optic cables that may or may not be encrypted.

It starts to make a lot more sense then why, back in September, Google assured us that they're working on moving towards a total encryption of all their data centres. What at the time might have merely seemed like a way to placate the public amidst a massive backlash was actually a highly necessary proactive measure. Of course, whether or not Google would have mad such an accelerated effort to do so had the public not become aware of PRISM remains in question. Conversely, Yahoo, which has been moving at a snail's pace in terms of locking down user data if even that, walks away looking dangerously incautious by comparison.

White House officials and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have, unsurprisingly, declined to "confirm, deny or explain why the agency infiltrates Google and Yahoo networks overseas." But with something like this happening right under the nose of massive corporations like Google and Yahoo, it's hard to imagine that there aren't more undesirable surprises to come. [The Washington Post]


Comments

    i'm sorry, but what do people thing the NSA was doing? isn't this what they're supposed to do? Snowdon's not so much a "whistleblower" as "someone who's reminded us of the NSA's role".

    i'm not saying i support the NSA's actions, just that i'm surprised by all the outrage at the fact they've been doing what they were created to do...

      True, Anyone who thinks anything they do on the internet is private is kidding themselves.

      The thing is though and there have been proven cases of it, that the NSA is run by people who can have an agenda that runs on a personal level. Stalking exs, stealing images etc.

      What happens when an NSA agent has a dream to be a writer. You have uploaded your amazing work in progress online to google docs to work on it. Bam all the sudden someone else has stolen your book and making millions.

      No this isn't what they are supposed to be doing.

      They have far exceeded their reach. Sure you should never have trusted them, or that some of this stuff wasn't going on. The fact is, it seems the NSA has been working with out any oversight, extending it's limits as far as it possibly can. All while ignoring any oversight from the elected officials who they are meant to answer to or the legal frame work and laws that it's meant to operate.

      Last edited 31/10/13 10:52 am

        according to Wikipedia (that rock solid source of information) - The NSA is tasked with the global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, including surveillance of targeted individuals on U.S. soil. The agency is authorized to accomplish its mission through clandestine means, among which is bugging electronic systems and allegedly engaging in sabotage through subversive software. i can't see how anything they're supposed to have done falls outside that.

          Firstly, Wikipedia. Really?
          Secondly. It's exactly what you've written that is causing an uproar. A lot of international uproar is over the spying, monitoring and data collection of foreign citizens. Of foreign governments (such as the German Chancellor) being monitored.

          But on home soil - it's citizens outraged by the lack of trust by their government and the governments lack of respect to their constitution. Privacy is held very dear to Americans, more than Australians will actually know or understand. In fact most of their Constitution is very precious to them. They're a patriotic nation, could not be more simpler.

          Sure most of these people should've known the NSA were going to push the boundaries of the law (Heck the CIA, Homeland & even Secret Service have), but whether they were happily oblivious cause it was all sealed away from their perfect world, they still have a right to be mad.

          The US is desperate. Obama has denounced the nation as a serious power. The failure of Syria and allowing Putin to be portrayed as the good guy in the situation. Democrats or Republicans, they're all the same, they just have different views on government welfare. But they're just as equally radical when it comes to foreign policy and their management of it. Clinton did it. Carter did it. And we all know the last 3 Republican Presidents were as, if not more, bad at it.

          The Republicans would be wise to ride this wave of data collection/monitoring all the way to the 2014 congressional elections and through to 2016. I'm surprised Obama has not yet been impeached by any of this - the Republicans have been going nuts everywhere else against Obama/Democrats at any given chance. But something tells me, they're just as much to blame when the Congressional dirt all comes up in such a case. And it's not like they wouldn't continue this if in office.

          As a country that presents itself on Freedom & Democracy, their citizens are surely screwed right now with the mass data collection on everyone, the corrupt corporations assisting the government & lack of transparency by the Govt and accountability by the Media. Why should other nations look to the US as inspiration when they can hardly inspire themselves? I feel a big change happening with the US.

            Sorry Marty.

            Executive Order 12333, originally issued 4 December 1981, delineates the NSA/CSS roles and responsibilities. In part, the Director, NSA/Chief, CSS is charged to:

            Collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyze, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes to support national and departmental missions.

            Still can't see how they aren't doing that now.

            Like I said, I don't support the NSA's actions, but I'm not surprised that they're doing what they're supposed to. What's perhaps surprising is how good at it they are?

              If what they were doing was with in their powers, they wouldn't have been lying about it to those in charge of their oversight.

            > the corrupt corporations assisting the government & lack of transparency by
            > the Govt and accountability by the Media. Why should other nations look to
            > the US as inspiration when they can hardly inspire themselves?

            Hmm. Corporations setting the legislative agenda... lack of transparency & accountability... I can think of one country that's been inspired by the US recently.

            I get the strong impression that the NSA's actions are controversial in the USA not due to overseas surveillance but due to the level of surveillance of US citizens. The strategy seems to be to gather as much data as possible of both citizens and non-citizens and post-filter, whereas the NSA isn't supposed to gather data on people who are not under suspicion at all - it's only supposed to gather data on "targeted individuals".

            What the rest of the world thinks of this level of surveillance is not something they care much about, since keeping an eye on foreign activity is definitely within the NSA's charter, regardless of how poorly such activity is regarded elsewhere.

          Details on PRISM were made public in the last six or so months. You don't think that description has been edited a couple of times since then perhaps?

    The public: "We need guns! We need to protect our right to have guns"
    Foreigners: "Why do you need guns?"
    The public: "To overthrow the government if they overstep their power, as the declaration of independence gives us the right to do! And for fighting terrorism! Government and terrorism! If you don't agree with us, the terrorists have won!"
    Foreigners: "Well, they're overstepping their power now by spying on everyone. Get your guns and go to the White House!"
    The public: "Oh.. well, umm.. maybe tomorrow, I guess"

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