- The Washington Post cites documents leaked by Edward Snowden
- In 30 days, the NSA gleaned 180 million new records including text, audio and video – and who sent it to whom and when they sent it
- NSA: Claims that we collect data this way are not true
PUBLISHED: 12:53 EST, 30 October 2013 | UPDATED: 14:16 EST, 30 October 2013
The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the Yahoo and Google data centers around the world to steal hundreds of millions of records, it was reported today.
Every day, the NSA sends millions of records from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters, the Washington Post reported, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The documents include a slide from an agency presentation entitled ‘Google Cloud Exploitation’, featuring a sketch showing where the ‘Public Internet’ meets the internal ‘Google Cloud’ of user data.
On the sketch, a note adds that encryption is ‘added and remove here!’ and the artist then jots a smiley face – in what the Post calls a ‘cheeky celebration of victory over Google security’.
Leaked: In a slide from an NSA presentation, a sketch shows where the ‘Public Internet’ meets the ‘Google Cloud’ user data – with a smiley face to celebrate getting around the secure links
‘Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing,’ the Post reported.
In the 30 days after January 9, field collectors processed and sent back more than 180 million new records – ranging from ‘metadata’, which would indicate who sent or received emails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.
Both companies said they had not given the NSA permission to do so and where not aware of the activity.
The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ.
The program uses an unnamed telecommunications provider giving secret access to a cable for Google and Yahoo to pass unencrypted traffic between their servers.
Seized: The NSA has reportedly secretly broken into main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world. This photo shows a Google data center in Hamina, Finland
The Post said NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.
The NSA’s leader, Gen. Keith Alexander said he was unaware of the report, adding that the NSA is not authorized to access data centers and must go through a court process to obtain it.
‘The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons’ data from this type of collection is also not true,’ a spokeswoman added, Politico reported.
The report comes despite the companies saying their servers are closely guarded and strictly audited. According to Google, buildings housing its servers are guarded around-the-clock and secured with heat-sensitive cameras and biometric verification.
In a statement to the Post, Google said it was ‘troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity’.
At Yahoo a spokeswoman added: ‘We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.’
White House officials and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, declined to comment, the Post said.
Revelations: The information was obtained by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden
The NSA already collects data from Google, Yahoo and other technology companies under another program known as PRISM – details of which were revealed by Snowden earlier this year.
The program legally compels the companies to provide the agency with information that matches court-approved search terms.
The collection of data by MUSCULAR would be illegal in the U.S., but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA can presume anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner, the Post said.