NSA’s Secret Toolbox: How the NSA’s Implant Unit works (Der Speigel : Germany : Deutschland)
TIP: Click on the red dots – Der Spiegel gives detailed graphics/NSA technical documents 🙂
The NSA has a secret unit that produces special equipment ranging from spyware for computers and cell phones to listening posts and USB sticks that work as bugging devices. Here are some excerpts from the intelligence agency’s own catalog.
Editor’s note: This is a sidebar to our main feature story on the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit. You can read the main text here .
When agents with the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division want to infiltrate a network or a computer, they turn to their technical experts. This particular unit of the United States intelligence service is known internally as ANT. The acronym presumably stands for Advanced Network Technology, because that’s what the division produces — tools for penetrating network equipment and monitoring mobile phones and computers. ANT’s products help TAO agents infiltrate networks and divert or even modify data wherever the NSA’s usual methods won’t suffice. You can read more about the TAO division, its strengths and tricks in a SPIEGEL feature that was published in English on Sunday.
SPIEGEL has obtained an internal NSA catalog describing ANT’s various products, along with their prices. A rigged monitor cable, for example, which allows “TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor,” goes for $30 (€22). An “active GSM base station” that makes it possible to mimic the cell phone tower of a target network and thus monitor mobile phones, is available for $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data undetected via radio link, are available in packs of 50, for over $1 million.
Intelligence agencies, incidentally, are not the only ones using these types of devices. The same kind of modified USB plug played a role, for example, in a recent high-tech drug-smuggling case uncovered at the port of Antwerp, Belgium.
Spying on Allies
It has become clear that the ANT arsenal isn’t used exclusively to track suspected terrorists. GSM base stations, for example, make it possible to monitor mobile phones, such as that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Radar systems such as the one known as “DROPMIRE” have also been used to spy on allies, for example EU representatives in Washington. And the hardware “implants” found in the ANT catalog evidently have been used, for example, to tap encrypted faxes.
NSA malware has also been used against international telecommunications companies, such as partially state-owned Belgian company Belgacom and mobile phone billing service provider MACH. One internal NSA document dating from 2004 describes a spyware program called “VALIDATOR” by saying that it provides “unique backdoor access to personal computers of targets of national interest, including but not limited to terrorist targets.”