The NSA revelations keep on coming, and if you're feeling desensitized to the whole thing it's time to refocus and get your game face on for 2014. Because shit continues to get real.
SPIEGEL published two pieces this morning about the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division, aka premier hacking ninja squad. According to Snowden documents, TAO has a catalog of all the commercial equipment that carries NSA backdoors. And it's a who's who of a list. Storage products from Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung have backdoors in their firmware, firewalls from Juniper Networks have been compromised, plus networking equipment from Cisco and Huawei, and even unspecified products from Dell. TAO actually intercepts online orders of these and other electronics to bug them.
SPIEGEL notes that the documents do not provide any evidence that the manufacturers mentioned had any idea about this NSA activity. Every company spokesperson contacted by Spiegel reporters denied having any knowledge of the situation, though Dell officials said instead that the company "respects and complies with the laws of all countries in which it operates."
TAO uses software hacking in things like Windows bug reports to get the information and device control they need, of course. But if that's not enough, they even have a special group of hardware hackers who create modified equipment for TAO specialists to try and plant. A monitor cable that allows "TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor," costs $30. An "active GSM base station" for monitoring cellphone calls costs $40,000, and converted flashdrives that plant bugs and can also transmit and receive data with hidden radio signals come in 50-packs for more than $1 million. The NSA octopus spreads its tentacles even further. [SPIEGEL, SPIEGEL]
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