As reports and interviews are rolling in just the last few days, NSA insider Edward Snowden has revealed and confirmed some details of the US surveillance and cyber-espionage machinery. A picture is emerging from the pieces, but until we see the rest of the 37 pages of the NSA powerpoint document, it will be hard for us to assess the nature of the US intelligence service.
But still, I like to offer a few speculations based upon what we currently heard.
(1) The latest claim of NSA’s internet “backbone hacking” in China and elsewhere, and 61,000 hacking ops, is definitely an unexpected confirmation of some speculations.
Namely, for years, it has been speculated by many around the world that network equipment manufacturers like CISCO have been in fact, secretly (but required by US law) to install “backdoors” on the equipment hardware. This speculation was not entirely unreasonable. Afterall, the original “internet” started in US government owned military and university networks. Undoubtedly, even back in its infancy, the internet contained “backdoors” for US government, for use in emergency situations, (to shut down the network, to prevent hijacking, etc.)
Other nations could not prove this necessarily or very easily, and they would not publicize it if they did prove it. But the speculation was rampant.
China recently had its major telecom companies announcing that they were going to swap out all CISCO routers/switches from the Chinese internet backbone, (which was about 80% of routers/switches on the Chinese internet backbone. Hmm… Coincidence? I think not.
(2) There is something odd about the “backbone hacking”. Which is WHY?
Many modern network communication messages (including emails) are encrypted. “Backbone hacking” would give one access to huge amounts of encrypted data which would not be easy to decrypt very quickly. What good is that?
Here, we need to see the missing pieces.
NSA’s FISA court orders may be able to compel companies like Google to turn over records for so-and-so users, but Usernames are often anonymous, and NSA risk running deeper foul of 4th Amendment if it tried to order Google to turn over REAL names, unless it has reasonable cause/suspicion based on specific evidence.
BUT, the “backbone hacking” may help fill in the missing information, because while the data messages may be encrypted, the IP addresses are not. With “backbone hacking”, NSA can even track down any original IP addresses that were routed through several Proxy servers. (No one can hide if NSA has that kind of access).
IP addresses may not be completely unique, but it can help pin point REAL identities.
Google, for example, tracks all IP addresses, which you can pull up for your own accounts.
NSA, thus, can draw comparisons of data from Google/etc., and “backbone hacked” records of IP traffic, and determine /trace REAL user identities.
That’s the real point of it all.
Without the “backbone hacking”, all NSA would have is a bunch of rather disjointed messages from Users “Smooch_Cat_Video_Joe” or “Johnny_Walker_78”.
NSA needed the REAL identities, and they went after it using “backbone hacking”.
(3) Why China on top of list? For one, simple, to spy on China.
Second, China, as we have stated before, contains the largest number of Proxy servers in the world. (which many hackers do use).
Thus, to really seriously spy on the “internet”, NSA needed to hack into the Chinese “backbone” traffic.
But undoubtedly, NSA is hacking into the “backbone” of every country’s internet. Otherwise, there would be holes in their cyber drag-net.
(4) what else might Snowden reveal?
How the NSA might be using its espionage program to coerce politicians around the world?
Snowden hinted that some HK politicians were being spied on by NSA and perhaps were coerced or influenced.
There were previously hints that Greek politicians and Chinese leaders were being bugged or spied on by unknown parties. Perhaps NSA had something to do with those incidents.
*Needless to say, we are eagerly waiting for more stories on this.