The NSA has conducted a covert campaign to intercept internal communications of operators and trade groups in order to infiltrate mobile networks worldwide, according to the latest revelations from documents supplied by Edward Snowden.
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The U.S. National Security Agency ran two hitherto undisclosed operations, the Wireless Portfolio Management Office and the Target Technology Trends Center, operating under the aegis of a program called Auroragold, according to an article Saturday in The Intercept, which also published related documents.
The operations closely monitored the GSM Association, maintained a list of 1,201 email targets, or “selectors” used to intercept internal company communications, and gathered information about network security flaws. The NSA documents show that as of May 2012 the agency had collected technical information on about 70 percent of the estimated 985 mobile phone networks worldwide.
Other than mentions of operators in Libya, China, and Iran, names of the targeted companies are not disclosed in the documents supplied by Snowden, an ex-NSA contractor now living in Russia. Intercept founding editors Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have been instrumental in helping Snowden leak NSA documents to the public through various media outlets.
The NSA operations collected information in so-called IR.21 documents used by GSMA members to report security weaknesses and details about the encryption used by mobile operators, according to the Snowden documents. The NSA used this information to circumvent encrypted communications, according to the documents.
“NSA collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect in response to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence requirements — regardless of the technical means used by foreign targets, or the means by which those targets attempt to hide their communications,” the NSA said in an emailed statement. “Terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other foreign targets often rely on the same means of communication as ordinary people. In order to anticipate and understand evolving threats to our citizens and our allies, NSA works to indentify and report on the communications of valid foreign targets.”