Apparently hackers are not the only ones Yahoo users need to worry about. Recent reports suggest that British intelligence spies also have on eye on what they do. Edward J. Snowden’s leaked documents have brought to light yet another shocking fact. According to Snowden, these agencies intercepted millions of images from Yahoo webcams and stored them to their own database. Even users not under suspicion of illegal activity were targeted.
Snowden, a computer specialist, was a former employee of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) as well as a contractor for the NSA (National Security Agency). He is perhaps best known for disclosing several top secret documents to the general public. Among these were details about NSA’s international surveillance and data interception programs. Prominent surveillance programs included XKeyscore, PRISM and Tempora.
While many believed that all the agencies involved had been identified, new reports suggest that others might be connected as well. Britain’s GCHQ or Government Communication Headquarters started a surveillance program named Optic Nerve. The core purpose was to capture images sent to and from the webcam of Yahoo users and store them in their servers through their fiber optic cables.
A Yahoo user would use their webcam believing it to be secure, but unbeknownst to them, they were instead being monitored. Hence, it is believed that many explicit images are also available in the GCHQ’s database. It remains unclear as to exactly how many users, believing their webcam to be secure, fell prey or how much of the data was shared with American officials at the NSA. An estimate indicates that during a period of six months, almost 1.8 million users were targeted on a global scale. This included users from both the UK and the U.S. While users struggle to search for a reason, they have no choice but to accept the fact that for a while now British spies had an eye on the images sent through their webcam.
The company whose users fell victim denied any knowledge of the programs. They expressed extreme outrage that such surveillance programs should even exist. The company said in a statement that if the reports were indeed true then they would be an entire new level of personal privacy violation. They said that they are completely against the idea and urge the world governments to shut down any and all surveillance projects. The company also went on to state that they respected their user’s privacy and would ensure that they are well protected against such threats.
Yahoo was not the only company providing internet service to be alarmed by such developments. Companies such as Microsoft and Google also expressed disapproval and concern for their users. For better protection, they announced that they had initiated an effort to strengthen their encryption capabilities so as to avoid unauthorized access.
When confronted about the program, a GCHQ spokesman simply cited their policy of not disclosing classified intelligence matters. Another spokesperson stated that all of their actions were carried out under legal policies and authorized frameworks and were completely legal.
Until GCHQ comments on the situation, no one can tell what their exact intention was. As even users free of suspicion were targeted, it can be assumed that the agency planned to simply monitor and survey user activity. The extent to which user trust has been violated can only be estimated. Users are always cautious about who gets to see what they do and the fact that a device as common as a Yahoo webcam was under the watchful eyes of spies is sure to put them on the edge.
By Hammad Ali