15 Jan 2014

NSA Spies ‘Offline’ Computers using Radio Waves

The US National Security Agency (NSA) uses a radio frequency technology to penetrate thousands of computers and collect intelligence data, according to the New York Times.

Since 2008, the NSA has been using radio transmissions to infiltrate computers not connected to an Internet network. The technology relies on radio waves to communicate with a nearby hidden field station through small transceivers built into USB plugs. The USB devices can be physically inserted into target computers by manufacturers, spies and even unsuspecting users. The process “allows data infiltration and exfiltration,” implying that malware can also be transmitted.

These efforts are part of an NSA program known as Quantum, created for “active defense” against foreign cyber-attacks. Among Quantum surveillance targets are the Chinese Army, Russian military networks, Mexican police and drug cartels as well as US partners against terrorism, such as India or Pakistan.

“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” said James Andrew Lewis, Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

 “Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”

The NSA did not comment on these revelations, which are part of a series of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.