Facebook users look out, the National Security Agency may be spying on you by pretending to be Facebook. At least that's what The Intercept, a Web publication dedicated to covering the NSA, is reporting, citing documents leaked by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.
Reportedly, the NSA used automated systems to infect user computers with malware dating back to 2010, The Los Angeles Times reports. One of the vehicles the government agency used was the social media giant Facebook.
News reports indicate the NSA leveraged a program code-named Turbine to infect computers and networks with what are being called "implants" that can spy on users. All told, as many as 85,000 to 100,000 implants were commissioned for the digital spying mission on computers around the globe.
How Widespread Is It?
"In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target's computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive," reports The Intercept.
"[The NSA] has sent out spam e-mails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer's microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to Web sites."
According to a Fox News analysis, what began as a way to hit "hard-to-reach" targets -- around 100 to 150 of them, as of 2004 -- the NSA's malware-spreading efforts have since proliferated to potentially millions of computers around the globe using an automated system known internally as Turbine. Using Turbine, Fox said the Snowden documents reveal. Turbine reportedly gave members of the NSA's Tailored Access Operations unit the ability to tap into, or destroy, computers on a massive scale.
The Intercept quoted Mikko Hypponen, an expert in malware and chief research officer at security firm F-Secure, who called the revelations "disturbing." In the article, Hypponen warned that the NSA's surveillance techniques could accidentally undermine the Internet's security.
"When they deploy malware on systems," Hypponen said, "they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties."
Hypponen told The Intercept that governments could possibly justify the use of malware in targeted cases against known opponents. However, he added, automatic deployment of millions of malware implants would be "out of control."
"That would definitely not be proportionate," Hypponen said. "It couldn't possibly be targeted and named. It sounds like wholesale infection and wholesale surveillance."