It appears the National Security Agency will stop at nothing to gain information on as many people as possible. This comes after a new report that the U.S. government organization infected 50,000 networks with malware in order to directly steal data.
This malware, according to the report, can lay dormant for as long as the NSA wants it to, before the agency turns the software on to begin collecting information. By keeping the virus hidden and using various tactics to keep it hidden, network administrators are unlikely to know whether their network has been compromised.
Only Getting Worse
If the report ends up being correct the NSA has been infecting computers for some time and has been increasing the scope of the program. This sort of data-gathering is coming from just one part of the agency, called TAO (Tailored Access Operations). For the most part, this sector of the NSA is rarely talked about and is one of the more secretive areas of the organization.
As of 2008, the NSA had infected 20,000 networks around the world, including in Europe and the United States. However, the agency has been stepping up its network infiltration program to include 50,000 networks in numerous other areas, including in Rome; Berlin; Pristina, Kosovo; Kinshasa, the Congo; and Rangoon, Myanmar.
"[A] presentation shows that the intelligence service uses 'Computer Network Exploitation' (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations," said the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which broke the story with information provided by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden. "CNE is the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software."
Unlike some of its other spying programs, the NSA does not have any intention of ramping down its infiltration practices any time soon. Within the next couple of years, the agency would like to have as many as 80,000 networks infiltrated with the elusive malware, according to the report.
With the Snowden revelations ruining the NSA's reputation and causing the vast majority of U.S. citizens to criticize the agency's practices, NSA Director Keith Alexander is stepping down next year. Alexander's decision to remove himself from the NSA has been known since October, but a new report shows that the director may have been trying to resign since the first Snowden leaks came out.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Alexander has been trying to get away from the NSA for a while in order to save whatever reputation he can. Even though he offered to resign, the Obama administration apparently chose to deny his offer, forcing him to wait it out.
"The offer, which hasn't previously been reported, was declined by the Obama administration," the Journal said. "But it shows the degree to which Mr. Snowden's revelations have shaken the NSA's foundations -- unlike any event in its six-decade history, including the blowback against domestic spying in the 1970s."