The United States’ National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers worldwide. That’s according to documents released by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, The Washington Post reports.
According to the documents, the agency and its British counterpart GCHQ, through a project called MUSCULAR, collected data stored on Google and Yahoo servers. That allowed both governments access to hundreds of millions of user accounts from individuals worldwide.
“From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants,” RT cites the Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani.
A January 9th document says that in the preceding 30 days, collectors had processed over 181 million pieces of information, including both metadata and the actual contents of communications.
The government can already request information from phone or data through the FISA Amendments Act but this data collection would ostensibly take place without Google and Yahoo even being aware of it.
When you send email or store files with an internet company, that data is regularly shared among servers around the world, in order to ensure quick access to your information from wherever you happen to be. Google and Yahoo run customized private networks to shuttle that information around, passing between and within countries, as the Post indicates in a graphic. To move that information, the companies use fiber optic connections, light-speed networks running over thin glass cables. According to the Post, it’s those connections that the NSA is able to monitor. None of Yahoo’s inter-server traffic is encrypted. Not all of Google’s is either.
The MUSCULAR program, according to Wednesday’s leak, involves a process in which the NSA and GCHQ intercept communications overseas, where lax restrictions and oversight allow the agencies access to intelligence with ease.
“NSA documents about the effort refer directly to ‘full take,’ ‘bulk access’ and ‘high volume’ operations on Yahoo and Google networks,” the Post reported. “Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner”.
The Post points out that company staffers were surprised and angry to hear that their their networks had been compromised. Google said that it was “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers”.
The report comes amid a storm of protest about NSA surveillance both at home and overseas of phone and Internet communications.
On Tuesday, US officials said reports that American spy agencies snooped on millions of Europeans were false.
Alexander told lawmakers that in many cases European spy agencies had turned over phone records and shared them with US intelligence.