10 of the Strangest Programs Run by the NSA

Before Edward Snowden revealed us an unprecedented
amount of the National Security Agency’s activities in 2013, most of us were only vaguely
familiar with the shadowy organization and its information-gathering ways. The NSA has its tendrils in virtually every
digital aspect of our daily life, to the point that one of their automated information-collecting
programs is probably reading this right now (Hi!) and trying to figure out whether we’re
a threat to national security (We really aren’t!). While reports of their current activities
are understandably few and far between, thanks to Mr. Snowden and his leaked documents we
do have some insight into the things the NSA were up to in 2013 and before that … and
it’s not pretty. Here’s a look at some of the agency’s
strangest antics. Angry Birds No, it’s not just a fun code name, or, for
that matter, even a code name. It’s that Angry Birds. In 2014, the Guardian reported that the NSA,
along with its significantly less catchy British counterpart GCHQ, were looking into various
techniques where they can sneak all up the “leaks” of your favorite phone apps, up
to and very much including the world’s premier “Birds Vs. Pigs” game. The idea was to slip through the security
cracks of the apps in order to reach the users’ personal data, which would provide the agencies
with a number of significant advantages. They would gain access to a huge amount of
the kind of data that would allow them to exploit people’s phone information on a
mass scale, instead of just having to hack their way into our phones one by one like
some commoner. Location, as well: When you use Google Maps
to find a place, the NSA can use it to find you. The NSA seems to put great value on such technology,
to the point where one 2010 presentation called it a “Golden Nugget” before rattling off
a long list of information the agency could gather from just a single picture uploaded
on social media. Fortunately, this plan was among the documents
Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, so at least we’re aware that some of America’s taxpayer
dollars go towards surreptitiously scrolling through your contact lists as you play Candy
Crush or whatever. Boundless Informant Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA
about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been
that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their
shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been
lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know. Boundless Informant is a highly sophisticated
datamining tool the NSA uses to analyze and record its surveillance information. It’s essentially a hyper-competent archivist
that sifts through the sea of data and arranges it to neat folders. However, it doesn’t appear to do it by user
— unless they decide to take a personal interest in you, Boundless Informant probably
doesn’t have a folder of your most embarrassing emails and IMs. Instead, the system sifts through the incoming
information by “counting and categorizing” the communications records metadata (sets
of data that describe other data). However, the level of detail it goes to even
includes individual IP addresses … which, as you may know, can totally be tracked down
to the countries they’re from. Dishfire SMS texting is slowly but steadily going the
way of the dodo as instant messaging platforms are taking over, but the NSA has been collecting
them like they were coming back in fashion. According to the 2013 data leak, the Dishfire
program performs a daily, global and supposedly untargeted sweep of SMS messages, and took
them to a second program called Prefer, which automatically analyzed them for assorted red
flags. The agency was head over heels about this
particular avenue of information collection, to the point where a 2011 presentation was
titled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” They weren’t exactly wrong, either: automated
messages, international roaming charge texts, missed call alerts, electronic business cards
and text-to-text payments gave them access to unprecedentedly clear metadata in ridiculous
droves. To put the scale of the operations in context,
at the time of the leaks the NSA was able to collect over five million missed-call alerts
(for contact chaining analysis), Around 800,000 money transactions, 1.6 million border crossings,
over 110,000 names, 76,000 people’s real-time locations, and a total of nearly 200 million
SMS messages. Per day. Egoistical Goat and its friends The anonymous Tor network is obviously a bit
of a problem for an information-gathering entity like the NSA, but it appears the agency
had already made some progress to lift the veil of secrecy as early as in 2013. To crack down Tor’s information safe, the
agency created a number of programs with increasingly stupid names, all lovingly crafted to compromise
Tor user anonymity. There was Egoistical Goat and its sister programs
Egoistical Giraffe and Erroneous Identity, which tried to worm their way in the Firefox
parts of the Tor Bundles in order to identify users. Before them, the NSA had Mjoliner, which was
meant to divert Tor users to insecure channels, and a marking operation called Mullenize,
which was the online equivalent of a surveillance helicopter trying to shoot a tracking device
in a car before it drives in a hidden tunnel. Meanwhile, NSA’s British version, GCHQ,
did its level best to outdo its American counterpart’s ridiculous code names by trying to crack Tor
with operations called Epicfail and Onionbreath. Despite all their antics, the NSA’s success
rate at identifying Tor users was spotty at best — but really, who knows what they have
come up with since 2013? GILGAMESH It’s one thing for the NSA to want to know
about people’s information, and completely another to use that information to find out
your location and giving it to the Joint Security Operations Command in case they need to bomb
someone. This explosive application of NSA tracking
technology is called GILGAMESH, and it’s essentially what would happen if a bunch of
NSA’s geolocation tracking technologies married a Predator drone. Thanks to the vast array of online information
available to them, the NSA has taken to recommending drone targets with complex metadata analysis
instead of relying on human intelligence. However, the Intercept points out that while
the tactic has had some success it has by no means been particularly accurate and reliable. One drone pilot operating with NSA-dictated
targets has admitted it “absolutely” has resulted in innocent people getting killed. Optic Nerve To be fair, Optic Nerve was technically a
brainchild of the British GCHQ, but since they NSA happily assisted in it, we’ll let
it slide. It was a codename for a surveillance program
that surreptitiously collected a bunch of images from Yahoo’s webcam chats from all
over the world by the million, with little to no regard whether the people they were
collecting them from were persons of interest or not. This might be pretty creepy in and of itself,
but becomes doubly so when you remember the sort of stuff that tends to go on in webcam
chats. Yes, we’re talking about nudity, and judging
by the scale of the operation, there must have been plenty of it, too. In fact, leaked documents reveal that the
GCHQ actually had some trouble keeping all the naked pictures away from the interested
eyes of its employees, which in a way is even scarier than just stealing images in bulk. Understandably, Yahoo was less than thrilled
to find out about the situation, which they say happened only when the British media reached
out to ask some questions. The company called Optic Nerve a “whole
new level of violation of our users’ privacy,” and really, it’s hard to argue with them. PRISM PRISM is massive surveillance program that
started in 2007 and came into light when the Washington Post and the Guardian whipped out
a pile of leaked documents in 2013. Technically, PRISM was/is a system for monitoring
foreign communication passing through American servers. However, in practice, they monitored everything
they humanly could, and gathered their data from “providers” that you might be familiar
with. As of 2013, tiny little companies like Google,
Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and the like had to hand the NSA remarkable access to their servers, and
the vast buckets of data from their users that lays within. NSA can use this giant pool of information
to a terrifying accuracy, to the point where they could just directly access your — yes,
specifically your — information and spy on every little thing you do online. The only caveat is that some analyst in their
machinery has to vouch that they’re, like, 51% sure that you’re probably foreign, maybe. Upstream If you thought the NSA was happy just spying
what you do on the internet, worry not — there’s more to come. Upstream is basically the same deal as PRISM,
only with telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T … and in a much more
classic “spying” capacity. Where PRISM relies on intangible tech shenanigans
of the “access to big company servers” variety, project Upstream has physically installed
a host of surveillance equipment to the internet’s physical “backbone”: the routers, cables
and other gear that carry all the online traffic. The NSA uses this infiltration to track down
specific keywords related to potential foreign intelligence activity, though even this noble-ish
intent is rendered moot by the fact that they also often target the media, legal attorneys
and human rights people instead of just supposed spies and suspected terrorists. The American Civil Rights Union has called
the practice “unprecedented and unlawful.” Bullrun What good is stealing data from countless
unwary people if you don’t know what to do with it? The NSA answered this question with codename
Bullrun, a state-of-the-art decryption program that can straight up decode the encryption
used by several prominent providers, which means they can read your emails with the greatest
of ease should the need arise. This powerful Sigint (signals intelligence)
weapon is built by stealthily working with large tech companies to install weaknesses
in their products, and then exploiting these openings with their own decryption tools. This way, the NSA and its British counterpart
GCHQ are able to browse through not only their targets’ emails, but banking accounts and
medical history as well. Essentially, if you have personal information
online, Bullrun can out how to decrypt it. Bullrun’s importance to the NSA can easily
be seen by looking at its budget: When Edward Snowden brought the system out in the open
in 2013, PRISM’s operating costs were around $20 million a year. Bullrun? Over $250 million. FASCIA The FASCIA database was among the more interesting
documents Edwards Snowden leaked. It was a massive collection of metadata, consisting
of all sorts of call information, IP addresses and suchlike. What made the project so impressive(ly scary)
was its sheer scale: Though the document dates back to January 2004, it said that FASCIA
II had over 85 billion metadata records, and an estimated 125 million were added on a daily
basis. Leaked graphs (like the one above) indicate
that the system has since evolved, and in 2012, FASCIA already received five billion
device-location records every day. There’s no telling what that number is now,
but smart money would probably say that it’s significantly larger. The NSA started getting hold of all this metadata
during the War on Terror by straight up forcing phone companies to hand it over to the agency. Originally, this data included pretty intimate
stuff, such as the numbers you called and the duration of said calls, though not the
actual content. In 2015, the process was slightly changed
so that the NSA could only collect bulk metadata and looking at an individual person’s records
would require a court order. Even so, the NSA has been known to call this
system one of their “most useful tools,” and they say it has even helped them capture
multiple terror suspects.

45 thoughts on “10 of the Strangest Programs Run by the NSA

  1. When the head of the FBI said that he puts a post it on his laptop camera, I knew they been watching us. LOL

  2. It's not only IP addresses, it's your browser version, screen width even battery level. You have a shadow profile on every website with a like button. That button is stuffed with all kinds of tracking code. When you log in to a service like email your shadow profile is matched with your known identity.

  3. Yahoo was caught leaking a price list of spying services on their email users. A big part of that kind of service is providing back doors for government agencies and charging for it.

  4. NORD VPN didn't tell anyone about a big security problem until recently. They aren't to be trusted again till they show otherwise.

  5. You're more likely to die from not chewing your food properly than from terrorism. It's used as an excuse for dragnet surveillance.

  6. Hey there NSA since you're reading this anyhow I was curious about your thoughts on the CIA? Was the finders case really a botched operation? Oh could you guys drop me off some Chinese btw?

  7. You are a threat, you provide thoroughly researched information about a wide range of subjects, INCLUDING U.S. government programs that may be embarrassing, or even illegal… They don't want that info to be easy to access or understandable by the masses…

  8. NordVPN is garbage. one of their servers got compromised and no one knew until recently. The compromise happened over a year ago.

    Dodgy "VPN", would rather not use a VPN at all than use NordVPN.

  9. Ive been watching u for years and always seemed trustworty. Then i seen this video and everything was normal until you sponser. NordVPN. You said it got a perfect rating uet it was only a 9.8. You sold out and lied. What else do you fabricate if youre willing to sell out for a lie. $$$$

  10. Remember when Snowden exposed Obama for this (along with many more things) and it got swept under the rug like it never happened?

  11. comes as no no surprise, the C IA super computers are named after the 7 dwarfs, television show mentioned this not to long prior of E.S.'s whistle tune, I'm glad they are collecting mine they have proof I'm being done wrong, I get a gov't check and treated like a person in a nursing home as along with there records of abusing my gov't check too they think they are doing no wrong I'm glad I now can prove it

  12. The hilariously ironic egg-on-face moment happens at 6:35 when the guy advertised for NORD VPN, who only just recently admitted that thousands of users have been hacked and crypto passwords have been exposed.
    The epitome of shilling. Can't stop laughing.

  13. So, you can basically just become invisible by not using any form of digital communication… And old school espionage methods would be effective?

  14. Why is any of this a surprise? The government got caught for their hands in the cookie jar many times about spying on innocent people… I mean protecting their rights 🤨

  15. I say screw it, take my info and have fun. If you waste your time with my info, your monther should be ashamed of raising a creep

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