NSA secretly taps into Google, Yahoo data centers, leaked documents show

nsa collecting google yahoo data drawing

The National Security Agency has secretly tapped into the fiber optic networks that connect Google and Yahoo’s global data centers, reports the Washington Post. According to documents leaked by form NSA contractor Edward Snowden and unnamed “knowledgable officials,” this network interception allows the NSA to collect, “at will,” the communications and files of hundreds of millions of users, which likely includes many American citizens.

Wait – isn’t this old news, you ask? Nope. You’re thinking of PRISM, the program through which the NSA compelled a number of U.S.-based technology companies, including Google and Yahoo, to hand over users’ private data through the use of secret court orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. What we’re dealing with here is a whole different monkey – a program called MUSCULAR, which is allegedly a joint operation between the NSA and the U.K.’s intelligence agency, GCHQ.

Here’s how the whole thing works: Google and Yahoo both have data centers all over the world. These networks are used for internal communications and operations, but they are also connected to the larger Internet, and used to store and process data related to public accounts, like your Gmail emails or Flickr photos, for example. Multiple copies of your user data are often stored in these data centers, unencrypted, and passed back and forth between these so-called data “clouds.”

What the NSA has done through MUSCULAR is tap into links between these data centers that are located in foreign counties. According to the Post, the NSA claims to have the authority to assume that any data transferred in a foreign country is fair game for surveillance, thanks to an old executive order called 12333. The Post reports that, over a 30 day period, the NSA collected and processed 181,280,466 new records. Some of these records were metadata – the To, From, and Subject fields in an email, for instance – while other records included content, like emails, photos, files, and videos.

It is not known how much, if any, Americans’ private data is collected by the NSA through MUSCULAR. In a statement to the press, an NSA spokesperson said it is “not true” that “we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons’ data from this type of collection.” The NSA also says that it does not use Executive Order 12333 to circumvent legal restrictions on the agency.

According to Washington Post reporter Brian Fung, and Bloomberg reporter Trish Regan, NSA Director General Keith Alexander has refuted the Post’s report.

Neither Google nor Yahoo appear to have known about MUSCULAR. Google told the Post that it is “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity.”

“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping,” a Google spokesperson said, “which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.”

Yahoo said in a response to the report: “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.”

The documents describing MUSCULAR include a hand-drawn diagram – adorned with a smiley face! – sketching out where and how the NSA intercepts Google’s data center communications. When the Post contacted two Google engineers about MUSCULAR, they reported “exploded in profanity” when they were shown the drawing.

Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Social Media

Twitter suffers privacy scare as bug reveals tweets of protected accounts

If you set your Twitter account to private and you have an Android device, you'd better check your settings now. Twitter says it's just fixed a four-year-old bug that flipped the privacy switch to make the account public.
Social Media

Invite your friends — Facebook Events can now be shared to Stories

Facebook is testing a way to make plans with friends to attend an event -- through Stories. By sharing an event in Facebook Stories, users can message other friends interested in the event to make plans to attend together.
Social Media

A quick swipe will soon let you keep bingeing YouTube on mobile devices

The YouTube mobile app has a new, faster way to browse: Swiping. Once the update rolls out, users can swipe to go to the next (or previous) video in the recommended list, even while viewing in full screen.
Social Media

Twitter extends its new timeline feature to Android users

Twitter users with an Android device can now quickly switch between an algorithm-generated timeline and one that shows the most recent tweets first. The new feature landed for iPhone users last month.
Photography

Starting your very own vlog? Here are the best cameras to buy

Any camera that shoots video can be used to vlog, but a few models stand out from the crowd thanks to superior image quality, ergonomics, and usability. When it comes to putting your life on YouTube, here are the best cameras for the job.
Social Media

YouTube to crack down on dangerous stunts like the ‘Bird Box’ challenge

YouTube already bans content showing dangerous activities, but new rules published by the site go into greater detail regarding potentially harmful challenges and pranks, including certain blindfold- or laundry detergent-based stunts.
Social Media

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. users don’t realize Facebook tracks their interests

Did you know Facebook tracks your interests, including political and multicultural affiliations? According to a recent Pew study, 74 percent of adult users in the U.S. have no idea Facebook keeps a running list of your interests.
Mobile

It’s back! Here’s how to switch to Twitter’s reverse chronological feed

Twitter has finally brought back the reverse chronological feed, allowing you to see your feed based on the newest tweets, rather than using Twitter's algorithm that shows what it thinks you want to see. It's easy to switch.
Social Media

Nearly a million Facebook users followed these fake Russian accounts

Facebook purged two separate groups behind more than 500 fake accounts with Russian ties. One group had ties to Russian news agency Sputnik, while the other had behavior similar to the Internet Research Agency's midterm actions.
Web

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. Here are some of the best subreddits to get you started.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.