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How NSA Hacks Into Cellular Networks From Around The World?

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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


It looks like the NSA is not content with conducting mass surveillance of Americans; it has also got ambitious plans to tap into cellular networks from all over the world. The details of the secret wiretapping program, dubbed as Operation AURORAGOLD, were first published by the online magazine “The Intercept” in the month of December’ 2014 and were originally contained in the documents leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

As per the details provided by The Intercept, NSA spied on hundreds of organizations from all the world to discover security weaknesses that could be exploited for surveillance in the future. The interesting thing about the program was that it not only targeted companies and operators from countries that are perceived as the enemies of America but also those which are considered as the allies of the United States. The report also suggests that the NSA already has a fair degree of “network coverage” in most countries including all the member nations of the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom).

The report also highlights the number of organizations targeted by NSA as well as the surveillance methodology used by the intelligence agency. As per the report, Operation AURORAGOLD has been in operation since at least 2010 and by May’ 2012, the US intelligence agency had already gathered technical information on 70 percent of the cellular networks (701 out of 985) that were operational worldwide. In addition, the intelligence agency monitored 1,200 email accounts belonging to the employees of major cellular network operators to intercept technical and confidential information about the organization. The report also reveals that the NSA monitored 363 to 1354 organizations every month during the period of November’ 2011 to April’ 2012. The information collected from surveillance was forwarded to “signals development” teams of the intelligence agency who were tasked with discovering security vulnerabilities and infiltrating the networks.

As per the report, the most high profile target of Operation AURORAGOLD was the U.K. headquartered GSM association. The association unites 800 network operators and 200 technology companies from 220 different countries. By targeting such a powerful trade association, NSA has once again shown that there are no real limits to its surveillance and that it is willing to go to any length to stay ahead in the spying game. The surveillance of GSM Association also puts NSA into direct conflict with the US based NIST ( National Institute for Standards and Technology) which recently made a grant to the trade group and allows the agency to spy on the American companies that don’t co-operate with it.

Apart from spying on companies and telecom organizations, the report mentions that the NSA has deliberately introduced security vulnerabilities into communication systems for exploitation at a later stage. Security experts have questioned the rationale behind such a practice since once a security weakness has been introduced, it could be exploited not only by the intelligence agencies but also by the criminals. Thus, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the NSA has compromised the personal data of millions of people from all over the world just to maintain its surveillance capabilities.


January 20, 2015
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