Analysis Inaccurate. That's how US spy hive the NSA today branded claims that it "has infected millions of computers around the world with malware," and that it "is impersonating US social media or other websites" to eavesdrop on people.
The clandestine espionage operation hit back at the allegations by issuing a statement [PDF] on Thursday, which comes after documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden suggested the agency could infect PCs and devices on a massive scale. It was also claimed the NSA could silently masquerade as legit websites, such as Facebook, and thus intercept victims' online activities. And, by the way, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is still furious about that.
Today's full NSA statement is here with our annotations:
Recent media reports that allege NSA has infected millions of computers around the world with malware, and that NSA is impersonating U.S. social media or other websites, are inaccurate.
Strong stuff. But the more cynical among us will note that "has infected" and "is impersonating" use an interesting choice of grammatical tense; there's no unequivocal denial here that the agency infiltrated machines and performed man-in-the-middle attacks in the past – just like when US President Obama told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that America "is not monitoring and will not monitor" her private phone calls, conveniently avoiding admitting that it may have done so for years. Also, the agency specifically refers to "millions of computers" as opposed to any other number, say, hundreds of thousands.
NSA uses its technical capabilities only to support lawful and appropriate foreign intelligence operations, all of which must be carried out in strict accordance with its authorities. Technical capability must be understood within the legal, policy, and operational context within which the capability must be employed.
Everyone knows the NSA can legally eavesdrop on foreigners outside US soil; that's why 6,660,000,000 people on the planet may have something to say about that policy of surveillance.
NSA's authorities require that its foreign intelligence operations support valid national security requirements, protect the legitimate privacy interests of all persons, and be as tailored as feasible.
What the US government considers "national security" seems to vary from year to year, if not month to month. But at least there's an acknowledgment of individuals' privacy, which is welcome.
NSA does not use its technical capabilities to impersonate US company websites.
You better host everything on US servers because everything non-American is fair game. Perhaps even non-commercial US websites.
Nor does NSA target any user of global Internet services without appropriate legal authority. Reports of indiscriminate computer exploitation operations are simply false.
How do you define "indiscriminate"? Does compromising internet users in a particular country in order to nab one bad guy count as indiscriminate? What about targeting everyone living a particular city or town known to be home to a villain? A particular apartment block? A particular IP address block? Everyone who is friends with the target? Anyone who has been within 100ft of a suspect? Uncle Sam's idea of "indiscriminate" may not match yours.
One final note: while the NSA attempts to deny the alleged activity, there's no word on whether it has the capability to perform such tasks in the near future – kept in reserve, just in case. ®