A new report has revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been cooperating to steal codes that allow both states to seamlessly eavesdrop on mobile phones worldwide.
Citing the documents given to journalists by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Intercept website said on Thursday that the intelligence agencies have cooperated on hacking the networks of the Netherlands-based Gemalto company to “secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.”
The Dutch company, which is the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, makes “subscriber identity modules” for companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, the report added.
“With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted,” it added.
The report, however, did not give any more details on the eavesdropping program.
The report came days after a Moscow-based security software maker revealed that the NSA has found a way to hide spying software deep within hard drives produced by the world’s top-notch manufactures, including Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and others.
According to Kaspersky, some 30 countries where computers are infected with one or more of the spying programs have been identified.
In addition to Iran, Russia and China, the agency is targeting Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria, it added.
The targets include government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.
Meanwhile, a former NSA employee confirmed to Reuters the validity of Kaspersky’s analysis, saying the agency’s staff still value such espionage programs as highly as Stuxnet, an NSA-led cyberweapon.
The NSA had also come up with the technique of hiding spyware in hard drives, according to another ex-NSA employee.
In June 2013, Snowden leaked classified intelligence documents showing the extent of the agency’s spying activities.
According to the documents, the agency had been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and foreign nationals as well as political leaders around the world.