GCHQ seeks to control the internet with social media manipulation, poll hacking and even more snooping

By Sooraj Shah
15 Jul 2014 View Comments
Illustration of an eye looking through a keyhole

The UK's spy agency, GCHQ, has developed its own software tools to infiltrate the internet to shape what people see, with the ability to rig online polls, increase page view counts on specific websites, and psychologically manipulate people on social media.

The same toolkit enabled the spy agency to censor video content that it judged to be "extremist".

Further reading

The documents and details of the toolkit were leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and first published by The Intercept.

The tools were developed by GCHQ's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and are listed in a catalogue format, enabling other GCHQ departments to see what tools have been developed or were undergoing development. The page was last updated in July 2012, and thereafter a new website has seemingly been used by the spy agency.

The full list of tools and their descriptions can be found here, but here are some of the most interesting ones, with their codenames in capitals:

"Change outcome of online polls" - UNDERPASS

"Find private photographs of targets on Facebook" - SPRING BISHOP

"Active Skype capability. Provision of real-time call records (SkypeOut and SkypetoSkype) and bidirectional instant messaging. Also contact lists." - MINITURE HERO

"A tool that will permanently disable a target's account on their computer" ANGRY PIRATE

"Ability to artificially increase traffic to a website"-

"Ability to inflate page views on websites" - SLIPSTREAM

"Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)" - GESTATOR

"Allows batch Nmap scanning over TOR" - SILVER SPECTER

"Targeted Denial Of Service against Web Servers" - PREDATORS FACE

"Distributed denial of service using P2P. Built by ICTR, deployed by JTRIG" - ROLLING THUNDER

Several other collection techniques involve the gathering of data from social media sites including Bebo, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Some of the tactics are "in development", according to the document, while others are "fully operational, tested and reliable".

In the document, the department urged GCHQ employees to be innovative when it came to other surveillance techniques.

"Don't treat this like a catalogue. If you don't see it here, it doesn't mean we can't build it," the document reads.

"There can be reasons why our tools won't work for some operational requirements. There may also be legal restrictions," the document claimed.

In a statement, GCHQ claimed, as it has throughout all of Snowden's revelations, that it acts "in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework".

This week, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal will hear from lawyers representing GCHQ on its powers to capture, store and share citizens' data after a legal challenge was made by civil liberties groups who believe that there should be a legal framework in place to ensure that GCHQ is acting lawfully.

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