The NSA-related cover surveillance operations are further detailed in a report by Dutch publication NRC that claims that more than 50,000 computers worldwide have been infected with NSA-operated malware. The software, hidden in computer networks belonging to organizations such as mobile operators across the globe, can remain dormant for years and be activated at will for personal data collection. The publication says it had access to documents provided by NSA employee turned whistleblower Edward Snowden that prove the agency’s complex hacking operation.
According to the report, there are over 1,000 hackers working for a special department inside the agency called Tailored Access Operations or TAO. NSA hackers had apparently infected 20,000 computers with such “Computer Network Exploitation” or CNE programs back in 2008, a Washington Post story revealed in August, but the number has risen to 50,000 computers by mid-2012.
By having access to such computers, the NSA can collect personal data that it wouldn’t have access to otherwise. One example reveals that Belgium carrier Belgacom was infiltrated by British intelligence, giving the agency access to customers’ telephone and traffic data in a hack that was discovered in September 2013. In this case, the computers were infected via LinkedIn.
This is only one of the newest reports offering more details about the NSA’s spying efforts. Earlier reports have convinced tech companies that they need to further improve the protection they offer to consumers, and to put up a fight, trying to limit the scope of these surveillance campaigns.
Meanwhile, the NSA has not commented on the malware matter, with a government spokesperson saying that any disclosure of classified material is harmful to the national security of the United States.