The NSA Can Hack Computers That Aren’t Even Online

It would seem to be the most effective way to avoid surveillance: Just pull the plug on your Internet and you’ve still got a computer, right? Don’t worry, your tax dollars paid for a way to get around that whole pesky “no Internet” thing and spy on your computer anyway!

How? Essentially by plugging a small cell phone into your computer, according to the New York Times:

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. …In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.

The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.

Basically, they hack the computer in question by installing a modem in it. Worse, the software only lets you use Internet Explorer.

To be fair, it does not appear that this technology has ever been used domestically, although the NSA has apparently been more than happy to use it whenever our allies have some sort of annoying secret they don’t want to open up about. Gee, we can’t imagine why they wouldn’t share with the NSA.

But it does raise a few troubling questions, not least because the NSA apparently has a rather busy little black-bag operation that can install stuff like this anywhere they want to go. And, of course, other countries may also have this technology.

Basically you should assume that everybody in the espionage community has read your novel. Ask them if they think it’s any good!

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)