At a rate of about 50 percent accuracy, the NSA reportedly hacks into the computers of Americans when Americans click to enter Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and other websites.
Tailored Access Operations (TAO) is a division of the NSA that allegedly takes on the NSA’s most important hacks. The most common method used by TAO to hack into computers is a program reportedly called, QUANTUM.
QUANTUM is the name of a system of tools. QUANTUM mainly focuses on popular social media sites that are visited frequently by Americans. Reportedly, when TAO’s target clicks to visit a site, that target’s computer sends an information request to that site. QUANTUM allegedly alerts designated hackers and hackers try to race a malware infection in before the desired website can send its information reply. This method is effective for the NSA about 50 percent of the time when the target accesses Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Google services, although reportedly accessible by Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service, has been found to be currently inaccessible to TAO.
Microsoft Windows internal problem messages are reportedly, also a point of entry for TAO. When TAO is monitoring the IP address of a target, any time that target’s computer crashes or displays a prompt to report the problem to Microsoft, TAO is automatically notified. This operation gives TAO passive access, allowing TAO to view outbound information from the computer. The outbound information allegedly provides TAO with insights into security holes because it tells TAO where the computer is having problems.
When TAO is unable to hack its target with QUANTUM, the NSA reportedly have other tactics, such as intercepting mail-order computers and installing malware or hardware at NSA facilities called “load stations” and continue their shipment to the doors of Americans or international consumers. This method is referred to as “interdiction.”
Another infiltration method allegedly involves using informants and spies. The NSA can garner information from spies on security systems to gain access to computers that are not connected to the internet. Spies can then, reportedly, be flown in and out for short missions to gather information.
TAO is the alleged highly specialized hacking department of the NSA, and its focus targets are usually top-level individuals and groups, such as suspected terrorists, national leaders and large companies.
For larger-scale targets, such as networks and network providers, the NSA, reportedly, has tapped the information from fiber optic cables that cross the oceans floors, connecting internet users. One such transcontinental cable that was successfully hacked by the NSA was the SEA-ME-WE-4 cable system that connects Europe and Malaysia and all points between, including North Africa, the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, India and Thailand.
TAO has been able to hack into encryption that was before thought secure, such as Blackberry’s BEO, in addition to Microsoft, Cisco and Huawei.
In 2011, almost 100 million computers were sold in the U.S. North America is the second biggest e-commerce consumer, after the Asia-Pacific region. By 2017, 10 percent of U.S. retail sales will take place online. Mobile devices account for 15 percent of current U.S. online retail. That 15 percent is part of a total 22 percent for electronics and appliances.
Washington’s budget for U.S. intelligence provides for 85,000 computers worldwide to reportedly be hacked by the NSA in 2013, including those of Americans who are targeted through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yahoo and LinkedIn.
By Day Blakely Donaldson