In 2012, the whole country of Syria was turned offline for unknown reasons, recent Snowden disclosures show that the NSA was the culprit behind turning Syria offline for over three days.
New revelations from the ex NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, unmask more government secrets, this time involving a whole country blackout.
In an interview with well-known NSA journalist, James Bamford, Snowden told Wired magazine that the National Security Agency sector known as the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, accidentally took Syria offline while attempting to infiltrate the country’s internet traffic to spy on users.
TAO has been accused with attempting to install malware by exploiting a vulnerability found in routers that Syria’s main Internet Service Providers (ISP) were using at the time. If the NSA would have successfully exploited the vulnerability, it would give the United States intelligence community full access to all packets sent and received over the internet. With such traffic, the NSA could use their packet capture system known as Turmoil, and utilize their packet processing system known as Xkeyscore.
The NSA would have had access to emails, logins, internet traffic, and given them a wider Internet surveillance grid that they previously hadn’t had access too.
While the NSA was clearly unsuccessful in their attempted exploitation, Snowden tells Wired that TAO successfully executed their tactics, but accidentally rendered the router, causing the Internet to go dark. Snowden described the occurrence as an “oh shit” moment at the TAO center. He continues to state that the NSA feared the Syrian government would have discovered their objective, but in the NSA’s favor, it was never discovered.
“Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation’s Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage,” Bamford wrote. Snowden continued saying that someone joked, “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”
The accusations towards Syria going dark had previously been pointed towards opposing parties of the Syrian government such as the rebels or others.
Snowdens disclosures are of huge insight the to just how large the surveillance grid is, and what the NSA is actually targeting. The mistake is a huge embarrassment to the United States intelligence agency, but opens more doors to just what the NSA has and is looking for.