NSA can spy on computers not connected to internet, according to reports


The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, as seen from the air, January 29, 2010. New documents show the NSA has targeted the porn viewing habits of Muslim "radicalizers" in order to discredit them.


Saul Loeb

If you’re like us, you always believed the simplest way to protect your computer from prying eyes was to unplug it from the internet.

Yeah, about that.

Not even cutting the cord can stop the National Security Agency, according to new information published Tuesday by The New York Times.

Since 2008, the NSA has used software and hardware to monitor nearly 100,000 computers around the world even if they’re not networked.

The NSA responded on Wednesday, telling Agence France-Presse that it was strictly for national security, and the techniques were not used on American computers.

“As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false,” an official statement said. “NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.

“In addition, we do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

Here’s what else we learned this week about the NSA and what it called project “Quantum.”

– Radio transmitters are inserted into target computers by spies, manufacturers or unwitting users.

– China’s army is the most frequent target of the techniques. Russian and Mexican security, drug cartels, European Union trade institutions, and allies Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan have also been infiltrated.

– Radio waves, about the oldest of the old school technologies, allow the NSA to infiltrate computers without a network.

– The German magazine Der Spiegel obtained a copy of an NSA equipment catalog that contained gadgets available to the organization.

– A $30 monitor cable allows NSA spies to see what you see.

– For $40,000, the NSA can erect a device that mimics cellphone towers to monitor mobile communications.

– And, for the bigger operations, the NSA can purchase 50 bugged USB plugs for $1 million that transmit data through radio transmitters.

– No target is too small. The GCHQ, an NSA counterpart in Great Britain, installed malware into Belgian telecommunications giant Belgacom to monitor telephone and data traffic. They installed the software by luring employees to a phony Linkedin page, the Dutch website NRC.nl reported.

– The website also published an interactive map of the NSA global network that employs the radio technology.

– NRC also said there are 1,000 “hackers” working for the NSA.

– Remember Stuxnet? That was the first test of the remote technology, The Times said. The NSA used malware to sabotage 1,000 centrifuges in Iran, dealing that country’s disputed enrichment program a major setback in 2010.

According to AFP, President Barack Obama will reveal US intelligence reforms on Friday in response to reports leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.