NSA Hacks Entire Internet! Film at 11

Category: Privacy

The latest 'revelation' about the NSA is echoing throughout the mainstream media – or the mainstream FUD Factory, as I have come to call it. (FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.) It has come to this: I trust an email from an exiled Ethiopian prince more than I trust a CNN report, and I don’t trust Ethiopian princes at all. Here's my analysis...

Did the NSA Infect Millions of Computers With Malware?

The FUD Factory doesn’t care about facts, or truth, or integrity, or any of the things that journalism used to value. It’s all about page views and clicks now. Creating Web pages and getting people to click on ads is easy. Just take any preposterous nonsense that some tin foil hat wearer posts on an unheard-of Web site and report it breathlessly. If there are inconvenient indications that the source is bogus, vaguely mention them in as few words as possible, ideally in the middle of a dense, towering wall of text so few readers will catch it.

The latest example of mass-media FUD is, “The NSA can infect millions of computers with malware spying programs.” It comes from two well-seasoned (but half-baked) FUD-makers: Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher.

NSA Hacks Internet! Film at 11

Greenwald used to work for The Guardian, a UK newspaper that’s somewhat respectable as UK newspapers go. But he found a more lucrative gig as the independent mouthpiece of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Gallagher has freelanced for The Guardian and other publications. In February, they staked a claim to Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA documents and are mining it busily; their little money machine is called “The // Intercept.” I have no idea what the double-slashies symbolize; I’d have gone with twin carets which represent skeptically raised eyebrows: ^^

The gist of The // Intercept’s latest FUD nugget is this: the NSA has secretly re-invented every malware wheel that already exists and all of everyone’s data belongs to the NSA. This is said to be accomplished by setting up fake Facebook servers that secretly infect unsuspecting people who just want to post photos of their cats, brag about how much candy they've crushed, and tell the world what they ate for lunch. This malware, which reportedly can steal files and trick webcams into recording video of cybervillians picking their noses, is also spread by sending out emails laced with malicious links or attachments. Snowden didn't mentioned this, but I think this malware is also capable of opening the refrigerator door, and leaving it slightly ajar.

At least, the Snowden files suggest that the NSA could do so. But is anything like this actually happening, or likely to happen?

Getting readers, even other journalists, to swallow such nonsense is simple. Just make it really big so the telltale signs of incredibility go down unnoticed. Saturate the big article with hyperlinks that seem to link to authoritative sources even though they really lead to short snippets of unverifiable excerpts and slides from PowerPoint presentations that anyone could have created. Who will take the time to click on every one of those links and discover that they don’t prove a thing?

I did. What I found, taken collectively, is simply a wish list; some spy’s budget proposal put together and presented to management in hope of getting a pile of cash with which to enlarge his little power sphere. It’s the same sort of thing that bureaucrats of all disciplines prepare, submit, and have rejected in every government agency and private enterprise.

“If we only had this money, just look at what we could accomplish!”

“Haha, good one; but no. Now get back to work.”

If there really was a millions-strong botnet controlled by the NSA, someone in the security business would have found at least ONE infected computer and sounded the alarm by now. I don’t hear any bells ringing. The NSA may well be capable of doing something like this, but there just isn't any evidence they've done so.

Greenwald and Gallagher know a good gravy train when they see it. So does Pierre Omidyar, Founder, Publisher, and CEO of FirstLook.org, the “new journalism” venture that hosts The // Intercept. (Elder geeks may remember Omidyar’s earlier claim to fame: he created eBay.)

Snowden must also fight to remain relevant, and continue his efforts to legitimize himself. But is he now doing so by stretching the truth (or just making up stuff) about the the NSA's activities? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "NSA Hacks Entire Internet! Film at 11"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Dwight Simmons
18 Mar 2014

We use an open source system with technology we don't understand, where anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can enter. We place valuable and embarrassing information in unlocked places. We download gleefully free content, not wondering for a moment why it is there. We write obscen and nasty flames and post embarrassing photos on public sites.

And we wonder "Why are there so many crooks on the Internet"

Am I missing something here?

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

A 'little' correction on your article.

The Guardian is a respected Left wing Newspaper in the UK.

It regularly sides with Right wing Socialists here.

Americans often make the mistake of equating our political parties as Republican = Conservative and Labour = Democrat. This is a real misconception.

The Conservative Party is more like the Benedict Arnold Party or even Tea Party in the USA. Just check on the Private School backgrounds of most prominent members.....

We also have a Liberal Democrat Party which covers the 'middle ground' - a bit like American Democrats with Green issues (on steroids).

The Labour Party is now almost like what the Democrats would be if it wasn't for Republican control of your parliament. BUT used to be Socialist (that's not Reds under the beds). Think Trade Unions without organised crime.

That being absorbed if you are still following me the Guardian is a Respected Newspaper IF you are Labour, Liberal Democrat, Wholefood and Sandals Vegan etc. It is not for anyone from the Sensible Middle or Right.

WE have a simple way of telling if journalists are 'being economical with the truth' here, we just check if their mouths are open.....

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

Well done!

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

Your doubt about the NSA documents and their meaning as interpreted by Greenwald et al is understandable until you realize that the NSA has not invalidated any of the information they have revealed. Until the NSA and its cohort stop lying about what they are doing, I'll believe the worst of the agency which chooses to lie to congress and opposes any attempt by congress to exert effective oversight on the spy agency's lawbreaking which has never been demonstrated to do anything to improve our 'security'.

Your only beef seems to be that Greenwald is able to earn a living as a reporter. Concentrate on what he is telling you, don't savage the messenger.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

Thanks for the reassurance.

Posted by:

Rhonda Fries
18 Mar 2014

I would hope that the NSA is sufficiently sophisticated that its malware doesn't slow my computer. If so, and as long as no rogue employee uses my credit card to buy blow-up dolls, I don't really care what they do.

I'm over it. We demand that our government keep us safe, and then we scream like children when it gets caught invading our so-called privacy to do so. Pick one. You can't have both.

Posted by:

Ken Ford
18 Mar 2014

Remember people who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

I also hold NSA 100% responsible for all those odd numbered socks (w/o matching pairs) so many people seem to have amassed!
But (unlike you) I still can't make up my mind how Snowden will be portrayed in the history books of the future!

Posted by:

Joe M
18 Mar 2014

Bob, I was at Black Hat last year and saw Gen. Alexander when he flat-out lied about the surveillance program. I watched Snowden's SXSW interview online. If he were alive and had participated in the American Revolution, he would now be in the history books as a patriot.

Don't let the fact that someone in the media is trying to make a story juicy, distract from the good that Snowden did.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

As you say, it's too easy to post the unlikely, making it appear factual and believable. Taking a step back from sensational stories like that, we've simply gotta ask the obvious: If true, the NSA would be swimming in an ocean of data, that would require hiring everyone tapped to sort through it all... kind of a self-defeating plan, I would think.

Posted by:

old gobbo
18 Mar 2014

Dear Bob
I have also read the article and followed the links. Yes, it is a slightly breathless bit of reporting, and yes, the references are slides which "anyone could have created". But the terms (names, actions, &c.) in those slides often fit with those acknowledged to be used by the NSA; and generally the aims outlined certainly fit with what I would be trying to do if I worked for them and shared their outlook. The objectives of capturing choke points or introducing code into messages are undoubtedly part of the NSA's work. The "botnets" are perhaps a little excessive - but if one is adopting the methods of internet bad hats, why would one not go all the way?

I am not wholly persuaded but I am pretty sure that something like the article describes is indeed going on. Your attempt to ridicule the double slashes rather falls down when one notices the conventions employed even in genuine NSA documents.

Have you perhaps over-reacted somewhat, in a natural wish to defend the honour of your country? Perhaps you would like to rethink in view of the immense efforts taken by the NSa to achieve very little ( http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-13/nsa-data-has-no-discernible-impact-on-terrorism-report.html ) which would only make them more eager to go further - to the kind of operations here described; and in view of the CIA's attempts to bug and attack Congress as Senator Feinstein recently described ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/feinstein-cia-searched-intelligence-committee-computers/2014/03/11/982cbc2c-a923-11e3-8599-ce7295b6851c_story.html ).

As a Briton who is deeply ashamed of his country's behaviour, I write more in sorrow than in anger about what is happening to my American friends - and indeed to the rest of the world.

Posted by:

John Caldwell
18 Mar 2014

Thanks Bob, for bringing me back to my senses. Follow this for more, and better paranoia: http://newsletters.technologyreview.com/email/daily/all/20140318/

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

Name two people who have been innocently harmed by the NSA? I really think the American public (some) are mentally ill with suspicion. They just love the idea that the government is spying on them. It is a case of grandiose ego. Folks the NSA nor any computer could possible spy on the 300 million people. This is the fact. You, that's YOU, do not live lives to be spied on. You are nothing. No one cares about your life and what you are doing.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2014

Why all the fuss? These two freelance writers are simply using the old proverbial tactic of telling the big lie loud enough and long enough, and the believers will line up in droves. Seems to work for the political parties.

It does do your heart good to know that so many people are concerned with the privacy rights of sleeper cell terrorists. Why should the government be permitted to know they are communicating with the known terrorists for instructions. I certainly don't want them to know how often I call out for pizza or that I'm looking for a new car. Who are all these complaining people calling that they don't want the government to find out about. If they are in a homegrown terrorist group training in the wilderness or if they're calling their buddies wife all the time, then they probably should be worried.

Are these the same people that think the moon landings were faked?

As for Snowden being considered a patriot if this were the American Revolutionary, so was Benedict Arnold, for a time.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2014

I believe every word about the NSA malware. I came home early one day and found it in bed with my wife.

Posted by:

Mike Munrow - AM
19 Mar 2014

Bob! I think the problem starts with pop-up ADS. that grain access to your machine when you click on them to get rid of them. I just saw one but left it alone and it went away hopefully with out any information. I am paranoid about using my name so I use a pen name.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2014

Bob, I've always wondered why the black helicopters circle my house when I'm on Facebook. Now since I've been reading your posts I've noticed they have been moving in closer and closer and there are more of them.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2014

This thread contains many examples of John Kenneth Galbraith's somewhat convoluted aphorism:

"When faced with the choice of changing their minds or proving that it is unnecessary to do so, most people immediately get busy on the proof."

If you believe that the NSA is spying on you, what can you do about it? Worry; that is all.

If you don't believe it, you can be happy.

Choose wisely.

Posted by:

Ian Thompson
20 Mar 2014

Given the battles they fought with the British Government and the right-wing press in persevering with the Snowden revelations,I would trust The Guardian more than I would trust ANY American newspaper.

Posted by:

27 Aug 2014

May I suggest everyone watch the movie, Enemy of the State with Will Smith and Gene Hackman released in 1998.

Mr Snowden wasn't the first whistleblower of the NSA's shenanigans.

Enemy of the State is a 1998 American spy-thriller about a group of rogue NSA agents who kill a US Congressman and try to cover up the murder. It was written by David Marconi, directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

As we now find out, the bad guys are anything BUT rogue but the NORM.

See more about how the movie came about, here.


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