US security agency using automated platform to spread malware

By Graeme Burton
13 Mar 2014 View Comments

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has developed an automated platform to propagate malware to hundreds of thousands of PCs around the world as part of its information-gathering activities - with the explicit help of GCHQ in the UK.

Under a project code-named 'Turbine' - part of a wider initiative called 'Owning the Net' - the NSA infiltrated up to 100,000 PCs across the world, using an automated platform that reduces the level of human oversight in the process.

Further reading

That is the latest claim to come from the trove of documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden, published by journalist Glenn Greenwald.

The NSA has used a variety of hacks and techniques to propagate malware, including faking a Facebook server so that it can use the social media web site as a launch pad to infect targets' PCs, enabling them to remotely search the hard drives.

It has also been responsible for hacking systems and corrupting file downloads.

"The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analysed by The Intercept [Greenwald's news website] show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerising some processes previously handled by humans.

"The automated system - codenamed Turbine - is designed to allow the current implant network to scale to large size (millions of implants) by creating a system that does automated control implants by groups instead of individually," wrote Greenwald.

The Turbine project automates a number of hacking processes that would previously have been performed manually, including the configuration of the malware, as well as the surveillance. The system has been in operation since July 2010 and is not only still in operation, but is being expanded to encompass a wider variety of networks and even greater automation.

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