NSA reportedly has access to internal Google, Yahoo networks


— 6:00 AM on October 31, 2013

The NSA spying scandal continues. In June, documents leaked by Eric Snowden revealed a PRISM program that collects data from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others. Information requests filed as part of the program have to be court-approved before tech companies are required to hand over data. However, it appears that the NSA is also tapping into the private networks that connect Google and Yahoo data centers. New documents seen by the Washington Post describe a program called MUSCULAR, which copies "entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants."

It's worth checking out the Washington Post story just to see the diagram of the "Google Cloud Exploitation." The image looks like it was scrawled on the back of a Post-it note, and there's a cute little smiley next to the "SSL added and removed here" note pointing to the "Google front end server" linking the search giant's internal cloud to the Internet at large. According to the article, "two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing." An official statement from Google legal officer David Drummond is more restrained:

We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide. We do not provide any government, including the U.S. government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.

Google's efforts to encrypt traffic on its internal network don't give me much peace of mind, probably because the NSA reportedly spends a quarter billion dollars a year to defeat, circumvent, and otherwise get around encryption.

For what it's worth, NSA chief Keith Alexander has denied the MUSCULAR report, saying "we do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers ... we go through a court order." However, the spy agency has a history of misleading statements, making it difficult to take Alexander's statement at face value.

Thanks to the EFF for the original graphic, which was tweaked for this story.

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