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Despite the impact the revelations initially had, it’s shocking to see that the warnings entered via one ear and went out the other. As the time passed, people forgot how their privacy was violated in the name of national interest. No matter, we still value Snowden’s sacrifice and what he did for us. So, let us remind you of the ways NSA has been spying on you, again!
XKS is a secret program developed by the National Security Agency to seek and analyze global data from the internet. XKS is a sophisticated program that gives the NSA access to monitor the internet. The program enables NSA to read your emails, access your search queries, browsing history and documents shared. The program enables the NSA to virtually access your device – enabling them to monitor everything. Further, the NSA can track your device wherever you go. In short, they have access to anything and everything.
In 1997, the NSA created its elite hacking division called Tailored Access Operations, also known as TAO. TAO is NSA’s specialized cyber warfare intelligence gathering unit that goes by this motto: “Your data is our data, your equipment is our equipment – any time, any place, by any legal means”. Tailored Access Operations exploits the security loopholes in devices to gather information about the user or use the device as a surveillance tool. Nevertheless, the devices with minimal or no security loopholes are not far from TAO’s reach.
TAO is capable enough to breach the security of your device using malware. They can route targeted traffic to fake versions of real websites to monitor logs and user activity. TAO also works in alliance with tech companies to create backdoors in routers – exploiting devices not only virtually but physically.
Under the obligations of PRISM program, the NSA had been asking for data from social media and telecom giants. The NSA could ask these companies for information like photos, videos, emails, and browsing history. Its biggest tech associates are said to be Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple.
The inception of the NSA was backed by the idea of national security. The NSA was created to collect information about foreign countries and citizens, not citizens of the US. The alliance was supposed to help the organization withstand and counter any act against national security. In short, the NSA was not authorized to collect intelligence on Americans. Though the question is, did they do so? Yes!
Exploiting the legal loopholes, NSA not only collects intelligence about the citizens of United States but also shares the information with its allies named the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance. The alliance comprises five countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The relationship is mutual though as the intelligence of other countries is also shared with the United States.
You’re not alone! No matter where you go, the NSA follows. The NSA can track your location via your cellphone carrier, open Wi-Fi networks in vicinity (vulnerable to security of course) and GPS. According to the Washington Post, the NSA collects around 5 billion records per day. Monitoring your travel pattern, the NSA can track your favorite locations. Who knows, they might be aware of your secret hideout in the tree house. Further, with the help of this information, the NSA can locate the associates of targeted individuals – also making them a person of interest.
The NSA can easily access the camera on your laptop, smartphone and even webcams with a simple malware attack. The attack is so subtle that you would not even notice that your device has been compromised. It does not have any effect on your device’s performance, its core purpose is to collect information. Furthermore, your microphones can also be used to record and transmit your conversations without your consent.
Even the devices that have been switched off, can be turned on without you ever noticing. Ever wondered why are you bombarded with the ads of something you had just discussed with your friend? Speaking of ads, there is a reason Mark Zuckerberg keeps his camera and microphone tapped all the time. And the reason is, he knows!
Snowden’s leaked information revealed that the NSA is also spying on your purchases. With its collaboration with credit card giants like Visa, the NSA can access your purchase logs and monitor your buying behavior. Furthermore, the NSA had also formed an alliance with the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication also known as SWIFT.
The NSA has been accessing information from SWIFT’s database, which includes records of purchases made with credit cards and other financial transactions. The purpose behind collection of such information was to track purchases of terrorist organizations, though, we find it hard to believe that information about a citizen buying groceries helps in that regard.
We all know about the famous FBI-Apple incident back in 2016. It was back then when Apple turned down FBI’s request to access data on an iPhone confiscated on the crime scene of San Bernardino shooters incident. Apple’s response accompanied a backlash to which Cook responded:"No one would want a master key built that would turn hundreds of millions of locks, even if that key was in the possession of the person that you trust the most...that key could be stolen".
Obviously, that is one side of the coin. As per Snowden’s revelations, the NSA spends over 200 million dollars a year to make devices’ security vulnerable. Such mammoth amount is spent on collaborations with tech giants – creating backdoors for surveillance.
Another incident brought in the limelight was NSA-RSA collaboration where National Security Agency paid RSA USD $10 million to create a backdoor and distribute compromised encryption tools. Over the years, RSA has been claiming that their relationship with the NSA has changed, however, we strongly believe in this notion: once a thief, always a thief.
Of course, these are a few known incidents. There must be hundreds of such collaborations that we are not aware of. Alliances that are still operational, and spying on us along with the NSA, from the shadows.
The NSA can access the information sent or received in your text messages. The NSA not only collects information about the content of the messages but also the metadata that allows them to access logs of transactions from your device, contacts, and your current location.
The NSA had been collecting information of telephonic conversations as well. Though, this information was not confined to metadata only. In 2009, a secret program known as Mystic was launched by the NSA, as per Snowden’s revelations, the program enabled the NSA to not only record metadata but also the content of telephonic conversations. In 2011, the program reached its peak as it was reported that Mystic had enabled the NSA to record telephonic content and metadata of a country for an entire month.
Sharing the digital space, it is our responsibility to not only educate our fellow netizens about the methods through which the NSA has been spying on them, but also, provide them solutions. With thorough research, our team has come up with ways you can take your security to the next level – making your devices invulnerable to hacking attempts. Further, we are strong promoters of privacy and anonymity and have come up with guidelines with which you can secure yourself from online surveillance and stop the NSA from breaching your privacy.