We already know that the NSA intercepts computer deliveries to introduce backdoors into hardware, but now a story in the New York Times suggests that the Agency uses radio technology to spy on 100,000 computers that aren't connected to the internet.
According to the article, the NSA has been using the technology, called Quantum, since 2008. It uses "covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers", which are "sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target."
The report explains that such technology isn't being used inside the US, but instead to spy on Chinese and Russian military hacker groups, Mexican drug cartels, European "trade institutions", and alleged terrorists. That said, it was initially used offensively, to map the inner workings of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in Iran, ahead of developing the Stuxnet computer worm that the US used against Iran.
As the Times points out, the technology has helped solve what was once a big headache: getting into the computers of adversaries that had, seemingly, been made impervious to attack. It still requires a spy or unwitting user physically insert something, of course, but that's better than nothing. All in, it's a smart trick — and one we can at least be grateful isn't being used on home turf. For now. [NYT]