Details about the NSA's electronic spy programs continue to be leaked on the Internet. One of the latest leaks reveals how the agency's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit gathers high-value intelligence via non-traditional methods. The TAO unit reportedly hacks into servers, intercepts Windows crash reports to detect vulnerabilities and taps undersea communication cables.
Another sub-division is ANT, a group specialized in creating software and hardware based backdoors in electronic devices, including computing centers, individual PCs, and cell phones. ANT reportedly has found ways to breach nearly all the security architecture made by major players in the industry, and even goes as far as to intercept computers or components en route to customers to plant malware or hardware components that grant remote access to the targeted systems. For example, the NSA reportedly flashes infected firmware to HDDs from all major HDD makers, providing intelligence officers with a backdoor that remains open even after a full system format. Another advanced spy method is to intercept PC shipments and install expensive wireless communication chips inside USB plugs. Full details can be read at Der Spiegel.
According to the documents seen by Der Spiegel, the TAO even intercepts shipments of computers and other devices en route to customers. These products are reportedly loaded with malware and "hardware components" that grant intelligence officers remote access to the targeted systems. Think about that the next time one of your Newegg shipments is delayed.
Der Spiegel's second article looks into an unnamed group called the ANT, which is described as a team of "master carpenters" working for the TAO. The ANT reportedly produced a 50-page "product catalog" that includes everything from GSM "base stations" that masquerade as cellular towers to bugged USB ports "capable of sending and receiving data via radio undetected." The document even lists prices for each surveillance product; the GSM units cost $40,000, while a 50-pack of bugged USB ports is priced at a cool $1 million.