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From Economic Espionage to Smart Phone Snooping, the NSA is Watching

New revelations expose the vast scope of NSA spying, from giant companies to tiny hand-held devices

Common Dreams staff

Two separate stories in the last 24 hours—written continents apart by separate teams of international journalists but both based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—explore the tenacious efforts of the U.S. National Security Agency to keep tabs on the flow of digital information and global capital, from communications networks inside giant companies to the itty-bitty content in individual users' smartphones.

The NSA has been working diligently in recent years to hack protections on smart phones, including iPhones, BlackBerry and Android devices, to gain access to users' data, German paper Der Spiegel revealed Monday, citing documents revealed by Snowden. These developments were fast-paced, to keep up with the smart phone boom, and show that even the most private devices are potential spying targets.

Der Speigel reports:

According to an internal NSA report from 2010 titled, "Exploring Current Trends, Targets and Techniques," the spread of smartphones was happening "extremely rapidly"—developments that "certainly complicate traditional target analysis."

The NSA tackled the issue at the same speed with which the devices changed user behavior. According to the documents, it set up task forces for the leading smartphone manufacturers and operating systems. Specialized teams began intensively studying Apple's iPhone and its iOS operating system, as well as Google's Android mobile operating system. Another team worked on ways to attack BlackBerry, which had been seen as an impregnable fortress until then.

The material contains no indications of large-scale spying on smartphone users, and yet the documents leave no doubt that if the intelligence service defines a smartphone as a target, it will find a way to gain access to its information.

Meanwhile, Brazil's Globo TV revealed that the NSA spied on Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Google's private networks, and a company that facilitates a majority of the world's international bank transfer—revelations that expose vast NSA spying on the private communications of large companies.

Bloomberg reports:

Globo TV aired slides from an NSA presentation from 2012 that explained the agency’s capability to penetrate private networks of companies such as Petrobras, as the oil company is known, and Google Inc.

One slide in the presentation listed “economic” as an intention for spying, as well as diplomatic and political reasons. None of the documents revealed the motivation for the alleged spying on Petrobras, according to Globo.

As Bloomberg points out, the revelations appear to directly contradict an email sent from an NSA spokesperson to the Washington Post, published August 30, declaring, "The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber."


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