NSA Program Auroragold Designed to Crack into Carrier Networks

This Thursday, Glenn Greenwald released a new set of leaks from the Snowden files on behalf of his publication The Intercept, which detail yet another program which handily oversteps nearly every boundary of personal privacy it can, while shunting any sense of common decency to the side in pursuit of some disillusioned sense of the greater good.

Instead of going the roundabout way and stealing secrets from people’s individual phones, the NSA decided it would be easier to simply strike at the source, cracking into the backbone of major telecoms from a dozen different countries on the hunt for information that might lead to the next big terrorist attack.

By closely monitoring email messages and telephone conversations of system administrators at the cell carriers, operation “AURORAGOLD” was able to glean valuable data that allowed them to install backdoors into the networks of targeted providers. Active since mid-2012, the program is said to have over 1,200 accounts on “high-alert”, and has been actively monitoring the activities of innocent contractors and employees of these companies for months and years at a time.

All the major firms you’d expect to find on the list are there, including Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone, Nokia, and Sprint. The operation takes special note of carriers operating in the UK, as well as the GSM Association, which acts an international trade group to designate cellular frequency regulations and standards around the world.

“Karsten Nohl, a leading cellphone security expert and cryptographer who was consulted by The Intercept about details contained in the AURORAGOLD documents, said that the broad scope of information swept up in the operation appears aimed at ensuring virtually every cellphone network in the world is NSA accessible.”

The relatively recent nature of the undertaking shows that the NSA has adapted to new techniques throughout the years, discarding the laborious process of trying to sort through individual records, and instead opting to hoover up as much data as it can hold right out of the tap from which it flows.


Photo: The Intercept

Perhaps more disturbing (if that’s even possible at this point), is the implication that the NSA has been actively creating backdoors in these networks when they couldn’t find any for themselves, opening up one of the largest data streams on the planet to any hackers who happened to accidentally stumble on their handiwork.

The glut of Auroragold’s daily duties have been tasked to two previously unrevealed divisions of the NSA; the Target Technology Trends Center, and the Wireless Portfolio Management Office.

The first is a relatively small force of agents, made to remain constantly vigilant of any new technologies developed by private companies or the carriers themselves that might impede the agency’s ability to keep their monitoring channels open. The second is more concerned with the broad strokes of the overall picture, guiding the unit’s strategies so they can always stay one step ahead of innovations in the worldwide wireless spectrum.

Greenwald believes Auroragold could give the NSA available access to every mobile device around the globe, and cautions customers of the affected companies that even with personal encryption installed on your device, much of what travels over the lines and through the air is still vulnerable to surveillance by members of the United States government.