NSA’s Secret Toolbox: Unit Offers Spy Gadgets for Every Need

Published on Spiegel Online International, by JACOB APPELBAUM, JUDITH HORCHERT, OLE REISSMANN, MARCEL ROSENBACH, JÖRG SCHINDLER AND CHRISTIAN STÖCKER, Dec 30, 2013 (Editor’s note: This is a sidebar to our main feature story on the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit. You can read the main text here).

The NSA has a secret unit that produces special equipment ranging from spyware for computers and cell phones to listening posts and USB sticks that work as bugging devices. Here are some excerpts from the intelligence agency’s own catalog.  

When agents with the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations TAO division want to infiltrate a network or a computer, they turn to their technical experts. This particular unit of the United States intelligence service is known internally as ANT.

The acronym presumably stands for Advanced Network Technology, because that’s what the division produces  -  tools for penetrating network equipment and monitoring mobile phones and computers. ANT’s products help TAO agents infiltrate networks and divert or even modify data wherever the NSA’s usual methods won’t suffice. You can read more about the TAO division, its strengths and tricks in a SPIEGEL feature that was published in English on Sunday.

SPIEGEL has obtained an internal NSA catalog describing ANT’s various products, along with their prices. A rigged monitor cable, for example, which allows “TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor,” goes for $30 (€22). An “active GSM base station” that makes it possible to mimic the cell phone tower of a target network and thus monitor mobile phones, is available for $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data undetected via radio link, are available in packs of 50, for over $1 million.

Intelligence agencies, incidentally, are not the only ones using these types of devices. The same kind of modified USB plug played a role, for example, in a recent high-tech drug-smuggling case uncovered at the port of Antwerp, Belgium.

Spying on Allies: … //

… Implants for Cisco, Juniper, Dell, Huawei and HP: … //

Photo Gallery with 16 photos: … //

… Intercepting Packages and Manipulating Computers: … //

… Windows Error Messages Potential Sources of Information:

One example of the creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method that exploits frequent errors on Microsoft Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the window that pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, asking the user to report the error to Microsoft with a click of the mouse. The window promises this communication will be “confidential and anonymous.”

For TAO specialists, these crash reports either were or continue to be a welcome source of potential information. When TAO selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft … //

… (full text and pictures).

Links for Tailored Access Operations TAO:

on YouTube: TAO Revealed The NSA’s top secret weapon, 3.48 min, uploaded by RT America, Dec 30, 2013;
on The Guardian;
on NDTV gadgets;
on en.wikipedia;
on Spiegel Online International;
on Transcend Media Service;
on Google Web-search.

Preparing for momentous events amid continuing crisis and radicalisation, on socialistworld.net, by Jonas Brännberg, Dec 18, 2013;

Rob Ford, Ford Nation and the Suburbs: What’s Going On? on New Socialist Webzine – Canada, by Todd Gordon, Nov 25, 2013.

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