The National Security Agency’s sophisticated hacking operations go way beyond using software vulnerabilities to gain access to targeted systems. The agency has a catalog of tools providing NSA analysts access to just about every potential source of data about a target.
In some cases, the NSA has modified the firmware of computers and network hardware, including systems shipped by Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Juniper Networks. They have also crafted custom BIOS exploits that can survive even the re-installation of operating systems and built and deployed its own USB cables at target locations, complete with spy hardware and radio transceiver packed inside.
Listed below are a few tools that the NSA uses to spy on unsuspecting victims.
The NSA also developed methods for gaining access to wireless LAN networks from the outside, allowing them to tap into these networks and plant their own software on them. The NIGHTSTAND system, for example, can remotely inject data packets for various Windows systems, malware, for example, into wireless networks’ data traffic. Then there’s the SPARROW III system, designed to map wireless LAN networks from the air. The system is small enough to be mounted on a drone (UAV). NIGHTSTAND is a mobile system for wireless injection of exploits for Windows systems using the wireless 802.11 standard. It is able to work over distances of up to 8 miles!
These are disguised either as a keyboard’s USB plug or as a type of USB extension cord that can be connected unnoticed between a mouse, keyboard or another device and the computer itself. These devices can send and receive radio signals either over a short distance (device name: COTTONMOUTH I) or over longer distances via a detour through another implant either in the computer or elsewhere in the room (COTTONMOUTH II and COTTONMOUTH III). These implants make it possible to not only monitor the bugged computer and its network, but also to send commands to the computer and the compromised network. It contains a built-in radio transmitter that is able to connect with other COTTONMOUTH devices.
Mobile Phone Networks
When it comes to monitoring and tracking mobile phones, the NSA has an entire range of products to offer. These include everything from specially equipped mobile phone models that make it possible to physically track another mobile phone, to fully equipped GSM base stations capable of masquerading as a network operator’s official mobile phone antennas, and thus monitor and record conversations or text messages from mobile phones within their range. Several of these specialized mobile phone base stations also have the capability to determine the exact location of any mobile phone user within their range. Then there is a device called CANDYGRAM referred to by the NSA technicians as a “telephone tripwire” which sends a text message to a command center as soon as certain mobile phone users enter its range.
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