The Switchboard: Inside the NSA’s elite hacking unit

December 30, 2013

The headquarters of the National Security Administration (NSA) is seen behind a Maryland State Trooper, who is sitting in an unmarked SUV in an empty parking lot, in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, 22 December 2013. (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

Published every weekday, the Switchboard highlights five tech policy stories you need to read.

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit. The German magazine Der Spiegel has an interesting look at what makes the NSA's hacking unit, Tactical Access Operations, tick. The magazine also reported on a catalog of backdoors and exploits the team maintains for the products of major technology companies around the world.

Reuters exclusive: Hacker took over BBC server, tried to 'sell' access on Christmas Day "A hacker secretly took over a computer server at the BBC, Britain's public broadcaster, and then launched a Christmas Day campaign to convince other cyber criminals to pay him for access to the system," reports Jim Finkle at Reuters. The Milwaukee-based cybersecurity firm Hold Security said it "observed a notorious Russian hacker known by the monikers 'HASH' and 'Rev0lver,' attempting to sell access to the BBC server on December 25."

2013 is the year that proved your "paranoid" friend right. "Most people involved in the tech scene have at least one friend who has been warning everyone they know about protecting their digital trail for years — and have watched that friend get accused of being a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, " says The Switch. But from the NSA revelations to secret webcam spying, "2013 is the year that proved your 'paranoid' friend right."

The United States struggles to keep pace in delivering broadband service.  "San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, a progressive and economically vibrant metropolis of 1.4 million people sprawled across south-central Texas," writes Edward Wyatt at the New York Times. "But the speed of its Internet service is no match for the Latvian capital, Riga, a city of 700,000 on the Baltic Sea." And what's more, San Antonio's service costs about four times as much as Riga's.

The most Kafkaesque paragraph from today’s NSA ruling. On Friday, a U.S. District judge dismissed an ACLU lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSA's phone records program. But one of the most interesting bits of the ruling actually had to do with  whether the suit could be brought on statutory grounds. The ruling suggested that targets of the program had no leeway to sue on the grounds that the law was being broken, because Congress never intended for them to know they were being targeted.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Andrea Peterson · December 29, 2013