Report: NSA can hack offline computers via radio waves


— 10:40 AM on January 15, 2014

People looking to avoid the NSA's extensive electronic spying programs may have thought that unplugging their Internet connections would be enough to hide from prying eyes. Maybe not. A new report from the New York Times claims the spy agency employs "secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet."

Dubbed Quantum, this program "relies on a covert channel of radio waves" that can be broadcast from up to eight miles away and "insert packets of data in milliseconds." It also requires some hardware on the receiving end. According to the NYT, the covert communications target tiny transceivers that can be hidden inside computers or devices as small as USB cables. Implanting one of those bugs requires physical access to the machine, of course, but that shouldn't be a problem for NSA spooks. The agency reportedly has a program in place to intercept PC shipments for the purpose of installing software and "hardware components."

Active since 2008, the Quantum program may have compromised as many as 100,000 machines. The NYT claims there's no evidence of domestic use, though. Targets reportedly included the Chinese and Russian military, drug cartels, European trade institutions, and countries like Saudia Arabia, India, and Pakistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to discuss NSA reforms on Friday. A White House review panel has examined the NSA's practices, and it reportedly made 46 recommendations. Government officials have met with privacy groups and tech companies, as well. It will be interesting to see whether those groups were convincing enough to produce meaningful reform.

   
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