The American intelligence service – NSA – infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information. Documents provided by former NSA-employee Edward Snowden and seen by this newspaper, prove this.
A management presentation dating from 2012 explains how the NSA collects information worldwide. In addition, the presentation shows that the intelligence service uses ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations. CNE is the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software.
One example of this type of hacking was discovered in September 2013 at the Belgium telecom provider Belgacom. For a number of years the British intelligence service – GCHQ – has been installing this malicious software in the Belgacom network in order to tap their customers’ telephone and data traffic. The Belgacom network was infiltrated by GCHQ through a process of luring employees to a false Linkedin page.
The NSA computer attacks are performed by a special department called TAO (Tailored Access Operations). Public sources show that this department employs more than a thousand hackers. As recently as August 2013, the Washington Post published articles about these NSA-TAO cyber operations. In these articles The Washington Post reported that the NSA installed an estimated 20,000 ‘implants’ as early as 2008. These articles were based on a secret budget report of the American intelligence services. By mid-2012 this number had more than doubled to 50,000, as is shown in the presentation NRC Handelsblad laid eyes on.
The malware installed in these countries can remain active for years without being detected. The malware can be controlled remotely and turned on and off at will. The ‘implants’ act as digital ‘sleeper cells’ that can be activated with a single push of a button.
According to the Washington Post, the NSA has been carrying out this type of cyber operation since 1998. In a profile of Tailored Access Operations by Matthew M. Aid, confidential sources told him that TAO has “successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecommunications systems for almost 15 years.”