The Intercept on the scary thought about how XKeyScore is NSA’s Google for the world’s private communication. First, in case you have forgotten what XKeyScore is since it was actually first revealed by The Guardian in July 2013 (emphasis added):
The NSA’s XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network, among other sources, for processing. As of 2008, the surveillance system boasted approximately 150 field sites in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, as well as many other countries, consisting of over 700 servers.
These servers store “full-take data” at the collection sites — meaning that they captured all of the traffic collected — and, as of 2009, stored content for 3 to 5 days and metadata for 30 to 45 days. NSA documents indicate that tens of billions of records are stored in its database. “It is a fully distributed processing and query system that runs on machines around the world,” an NSA briefing on XKEYSCORE says. “At field sites, XKEYSCORE can run on multiple computers that gives it the ability to scale in both processing power and storage.”
So what types of data, specifically, is XKeyScore capable of collecting? Here is the answer:
XKEYSCORE also collects and processes Internet traffic from Americans, though NSA analysts are taught to avoid querying the system in ways that might result in spying on U.S. data. Experts and privacy activists, however, have long doubted that such exclusions are effective in preventing large amounts of American data from being swept up. One document The Intercept is publishing today suggests that FISA warrants have authorized “full-take” collection of traffic from at least some U.S. web forums.
The system is not limited to collecting web traffic. The 2013 document, “VoIP Configuration and Forwarding Read Me,” details how to forward VoIP data from XKEYSCORE into NUCLEON, NSA’s repository for voice intercepts, facsimile, video and “pre-released transcription.” At the time, it supported more than 8,000 users globally and was made up of 75 servers absorbing 700,000 voice, fax, video and tag files per day.
The reach and potency of XKEYSCORE as a surveillance instrument is astonishing. The Guardian report noted that NSA itself refers to the program as its “widest reaching” system. In February of this year, The Intercept reported that NSA and GCHQ hacked into the internal network of Gemalto, the world’s largest provider of cell phone SIM cards, in order to steal millions of encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cell phone communication. XKEYSCORE played a vital role in the spies’ hacking by providing government hackers access to the email accounts of Gemalto employees.
Numerous key NSA partners, including Canada, New Zealand and the U.K., have access to the mass surveillance databases of XKEYSCORE. In March, the New Zealand Herald, in partnership with The Intercept, revealed that the New Zealand government used XKEYSCORE to spy on candidates for the position of World Trade Organization director general and also members of the Solomon Islands government.
These newly published documents demonstrate that collected communications not only include emails, chats and web-browsing traffic, but also pictures, documents, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, advertising analytics traffic, social media traffic, botnet traffic, logged keystrokes, computer network exploitation (CNE) targeting, intercepted username and password pairs, file uploads to online services, Skype sessions and more.
Yes, your cyber sex video chats with nude girls from all over the globe are captured by the NSA, watched, likely laughed at, and then indefinitely stored on their servers to be used against you at a later date.
This is, by far, the scariest of any of the NSA programs brought to light to-date. The capabilities of this system outlined in the article, and the lack of any technically-oriented security controls, is really what is more terrifying than anything.
That an NSA analyst can jump on XKeyScore and type in any type of search term and be provided with results, regardless of whether the search violated US laws and statutes, is confounding.