Reports last week that the National Security Agency uses radio signals to collect data from tens of thousands of non-U.S. computers, some not connected to the Internet, is sure to fuel more acrimony towards the U.S. spy agency.
But observers note that the NSA is not the first of the world’s spy agencies to use such technology to surreptitiously gather classified information from other countries.
For instance, intelligence personnel in the former Soviet Union used similar tactics to secretly gather information from electric typewriters at U.S. government offices in Moscow and Leningrad more than 30 years ago. And experts say it’s a near certainty that the spy agencies of other advanced nations are doing the same thing today.
“Physical compromise of a target’s technology is what we expect intelligence agencies to do,” said John Pescatore, director of emerging technology at the SANS Institute and a former NSA security engineer.
“The Chinese have been doing it to the laptops and smartphones of foreign executives visiting China. Years ago the French did similar things in their country and I’m sure British intelligence has done the same thing,” Pescatore said. “What the NSA is doing now is what all superpower intelligence agencies have done, are doing, and will do.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that documents leaked last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed that the NSA has embedded software and hardware “bugs” in some 100,000 targeted systems around the world. The “bugs” allow the NSA to collect information from the systems even when they are not connected to the Internet.
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