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Thursday, October 24, 2019

USA: NSA program

Mass surveillance by stealth


How the X-Keyscore program allows unauthorized online access
SRAY AGARWAL | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : USA | NSA | X-Keyscore | US spying program | Edward Snowden |

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US government has been making concerted efforts to beef up America’s intelligence gathering capability through increased monitoring of online communications. If the latest media reports are to be believed, America's National Security Agency (NSA) has deployed a program named X-Keyscore to tap and record 'virtually' almost all online activities. According to these reports, NSA officials can search and locate any emails, chats, Facebook status and even browse the online browsing records of any user across the planet without any authorization or security permits.

In the past, the NSA has been accused of tapping and recording telephonic conversations without prior approval, and the agency's role in unauthorised phone tapping has also come under judicial scrutiny. But in the case of the X-Keyscore program, intelligence analysts can search, with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. According to an article published in HS Today, "....X-Keyscore is basically a search interface overlaid on top of NSA’s DNI SIGINT collection programs that allows an analyst to do far more than just troll the Internet - it actually provides a searching capability that reaches deep into the entire global telecommunications grid."

In another revelation in Guardian, the X-Keyscore program has been described as "...actually a rubric for an aggregate of independently owned and operated, but inter-connected and inter-operative telecommunication (carrier) networks [that] incorporate both domestic and international carriers, which collectively carry virtually all national and international digital communications. The Internet, of course, rides on this network, but so do all Public Switched Telephone Networks and proprietary networks such as SWIFT [Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication] and SITA [global air transport company].”

Even private defence contractors are looking for personnel having skills to operate the X-Keyscore program. Companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics and SAIC have posted vacancies, with the intention of hiring analysts who have worked in X-Keyscore programs. Open advertisements by corporate and private defence contractors highlighting their requirements for X-Keyscore specialists, speak volumes about their sudden surge in demand. Private companies are poaching these experts in order to gain access to information kept safely in their competitors’ servers and to some extent in government files. These private companies are not just American but companies with an international presence. The danger is that even militant organisations can poach on NSA officials for running their own secret operations and obtain information access. Such unauthorized access may create a rat-race in information hacking. Clearly, the US needs to do more for its oversight and regulation of the telephone and electronic monitoring programs so that they don't all in the wrong hands.   

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017