Staff at the United States' National Security Agency reportedly “hunted” system administrators because they felt doing so would yield passwords that enabled easier surveillance.
The document is apparently a lift from an internal NSA message board featuring discussions among staff. The posts detail how NSA agents feel targeting sysadmins as a short cut towards tracking their targets deemed to be worthy of investigation.
“My end target is the extremist/terrorist or government official that happens to be using the network some admin takes care of” writes someone under the classification “S/SI//REL” (Secret, COMINT, releasable to Five Eyes partners), who goes on to explain it's hard to access the infrastructure needed to track their prey.
“Who better to target than the person who already has 'the keys to the kingdom'?” the author continues. “Many times as soon as I see a target show up on a new network, one of my first goals is, 'Can we CNE [computer network exploitation] access to the admins on that network, in order to get access to the infrastructure that the target is using'?”
The document then discusses how to identify Sysadmins by using social media profiles. Looking at Telnet traffic is another suggested method, as the NSA chaps assume nobody but sysadmins use Telnet these days.
The prize if sysadmins can be subverted, the writers say, can include: Network maps off of their hard drive credentials from text files (or from our key-loggers … potato potato) full lists of customers (along with associated dedicated IP allocations is a bonus) e-mail with upstream providers detailing how your network is connected to the bigger Internetz. For example, if I can see they use certain fibre cables to connect to the world, I'll go look in SSO's collect for their traffic. If they use VSAT's, I'll go look for their network in FORNSAT's environment pictures of cats in funny poses with amusing captions
The point of sysdmin attacks is to get at carriers' core routers, an effort the document explains “has been good business for us and our 5-eyes partners for some time now”.
The bad news is that the document says other nations are getting better at attacking such routers.
No sysadmin, it seems, is safe. ®