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Report: NSA intercepts US-made servers heading overseas to install surveillance hooks

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According to NSA expert and former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide, the NSA has intercepted servers and routers from U.S. manufacturers in the delivery process in order to install tracking gear.

In a Guardian excerpt from the book, which comes out tomorrow, Greenwald highlighted a June 2010 report from the NSA’s Access and Target Development department explaining how the intelligence agency installs backdoor surveillance tools on internationally bound routers, servers and other networking equipment before the items are delivered worldwide. Would-be recipients of the equipment have no idea that their items have been tampered with, because the equipment comes delivered with a factory seal.

Through the surveillance tools, Greenwald wrote that the NSA is able to access “entire networks and all their users,” and he singled out an instance in which the NSA was able to exploit and gain access to a network from a device that had a spying beacon installed.

This isn’t the first time the NSA has been singled out for manipulating networking devices for the purpose of spying. Last December, news came out from leaked documents that describe how the intelligence agency installs backdoors in the equipment of various computing and security vendors, including Juniper Networks, Samsung, and Dell.

News of the tampered equipment stuck Greenwald as being a bit ironic considering that a 2012 report from the House Intelligence Committee stated that Chinese-based telecommunications equipment companies Huawei and ZTE “may be violating United States laws,” by allegedly installing backdoors allowing for the Chinese government to spy on targets. Around the same time, Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said that Americans should “find another vendor” if they consider privacy and concerns about U.S. security important.

In an email to Gigaom, the NSA declined to comment on the specific allegations detailed in Greenwald’s book.

4 Responses to “Report: NSA intercepts US-made servers heading overseas to install surveillance hooks”

  1. We are a mirror of China in terms of corrupting the integrity of hardware – It must be hard to sell IBM or Cisco hardware into Asia now.

    maybe they can build the hardware and opensource the firmware, in a trust but verify software detente.

  2. Aaron

    I have no doubt that intelligence agencies (in all sorts of countries) attempt to do this, but has any recipient ever caught the manufacturer red-handed with some “super-secret” monitoring equipment embedded within the software/hardware solution? THAT would be a much better/bigger story if it could be proven.

    I think some of the Snowden/Greenwald claims are fascinating…but at this point, he could say anything he wanted and people would simply believe it to be true.

  3. Just listened to Greenwald on NPR Fresh Air. The technical intricacies of tampering with network switches to enable snooping would be interesting to explore. The two companies most involved in this work at that time were Israeli: Narus and P-Cube. I worked for P-Cube, later bought by Cisco Systems. Narus boxes were selected for the original Chaney snooping at the AT&T building in San Francisco. The complexities of pulling off such tampering are mind-boggling, and the potential further reputation damage to big name networking equipment companies is incalculable.