In the latest turn of events, fresh documents from Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald reveal that the NSA has secretly been placing easily accessible backdoors into the routers manufactured and distributed by companies like Linksys, Cisco, and Netgear before they are shipped overseas.
According to an excerpt from Greenwald’s new book “No Place to Hide”, Snowden claims the agency was actively involved in the process of placing specialized, customizable backdoors into the hardware produced by some of the world’s most popular manufacturers of routers and other associated networking hardware.
“A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit,” Greenwald said. “The NSA routinely receives — or intercepts — routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.”
This feat is accomplished by physically tracking and intercepting shipments of IT equipment before it hops on a boat to any number of ports from around the world. After the crate of routers is obtained, the NSA goes through one by one, carefully removing each from its box, implanting their salacious software, re-wrapping the whole thing up and packing it back in like no one was ever there.
It just goes to show the extreme lengths the NSA is willing to go in order to get their claws into anything that might receive or transmit data on the web, and speaks to a much older strategy for surveillance that’s been put into play since before World War II.
The whole situation is ripe for irony of course, with both US and Australian governments banning the import of routers made in China by their own networking monolith Huawei, for supposedly including their own backdoors in the routers they sell domestically and internationally.
Greenwald goes on to explain that Chinese routers were specifically banned due to the NSA’s inability to get their hands on the hardware before it hit the consumer and enterprise markets.
“Chinese routers and servers represent not only economic competition but also surveillance competition. This is what makes them so terrifying to half the people working in Washington today.”
The idea that this sort of practice can go on for years without anyone noticing is especially unnerving, suggesting that not only does the NSA intercept shipments from privately owned companies, they’ve actually perfected the process of repackaging their products all in an effort to create beacons which can be activated at random from all corners of the globe at the flip of a switch.
According to the excerpt, much of what they were trying to do was a simple hit-or-miss game. If the routers happened to be heading to the doorsteps of key targets, great. If not, so what, we’ll take down whatever information we can get anyway.
It speaks not only to the roughly-sketched, barely-maintained method of spycraft you would expect an agency of their size and funding to be a little more sleek about, but also the thought process of the engineers employed with the NSA who are paid to think these kinds of schemes up.