Security: Is the NSA installing malware?

Classified files provided by Edward Snowden reveal how the NSA has attempted to infect computers with malware.

The National Security Agency wants to be your Facebook friend, said Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald in Classified files provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal how the spy agency has attempted to infect “potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware.” In many cases, the NSA schemed to install spy software by masquerading “as a fake Facebook server” and using the social media site “to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive.” The NSA also sent out spam emails carrying malware that can “covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam.” The agency can even take “total control of an infected computer,” logging Internet browsing histories and keystrokes, collecting usernames and passwords, and siphoning data from connected devices such as flash drives. The NSA says our claims are “inaccurate,” but that sounds like “a non-denial denial.”

Facebook is not happy, said Will Oremus in Its CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, took to his own Facebook page last week to report “that he called up President Obama himself to complain about fresh reports of government spying.” While Zuckerberg didn’t say just what “set him off,” chances are good it was the latest NSA revelations. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.” Zuckerberg is right to be angry. But there is a rich irony in these complaints coming from someone whose company is basically built on the concept of eroding Internet users’ privacy. “This sort of grandstanding plays better if you don’t wait until your own corporate interests have been directly affected to take umbrage.”

It’s not just the NSA we have to worry about, said Kim Zetter in When it comes to commandeering webcams, for example, “cybercriminals, sextortionists, law enforcement, and even school districts have all been doing this kind of spying for a number of years.” Luckily, there’s a simple solution: “Cover your camera lens with a sticker.” That will thwart any spy who tries to covertly activate your equipment. And if you’re worried about somebody turning on your microphones and listening in, “insert a dummy plug into the microphone jack to prevent sound from being picked up by the internal mic.” You can make your own “by simply cutting off the unneeded portion of an old microphone plug.” The low-tech approach may offer the best defense against the predations of high-tech snoopers.

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