The National Security Agency can monitor, enter and alter data on computers even if the machines are not connected to the internet, according to a New York Times report.
Citing leaked documents the paper says the technology, in use since at least 2008, relies on "a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from circuit boards and USB cards planted in the computers.
The transmitters are inserted secretly during manufacturing, by agents in the field or by an unwitting user. In some casse the data is then sent to a briefcase-size relay station "as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions". The stations create a link between the target computers and the NSA.
“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” James Andrew Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the paper.
“Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”
The newspaper lists Chinese and Russian military, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan as targets of the surveillance program code-named Quantum.
Independent computer security researcher Jacob Applebaum exposed the offline surveillance and made other startling revelations more than two weeks ago during a lecture in Hamburg, Germany. Video is below.
Jacob Applebaum: To protect and infect