My Take

Nothing funny about NSA's jokers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 3:41am


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The next time your Microsoft Word document file crashes and that irritating window pops up, asking you whether to send a crash report, read it carefully.

Maybe you will get lucky and come across the joke that National Security Agency hackers wrote saying the warning was an alert about their hacking.

Recent reports that revealed the work of an elite NSA hacking unit read like a movie plot. Doctored cables that could record what you were typing, USB sticks fitted with radio transmitters, intercepting hardware delivery to put spy programs into it before delivering it back, fake base stations to tap mobile phones – almost like the backup team that Tom Cruise has in his Mission: Impossible movies. Except for the guns.

Microsoft said it was concerned about allegations that their crash reports were used to tamper with computers.

Now Apple is under a cloud after leaks suggested that the iPhones may have been used as a hacking tool by NSA. Reports say they could use the iPhone as a hot mike to record you and use the phone’s camera to spy on you.

Electronic spying has been there for a long time. It would be silly to wish it would stop anytime soon. But what comes through from these reports is the sheer nonchalance with which the NSA guys treated their intrusion into people’s lives.

One NSA joker reworded that Microsoft crash warning to say that the window may help to “gather detailed information and better exploit your machine”. Some comments on iPhones were even more cocky. NSA staff regarded the millions who bought iPhones as “zombies” who “pay for their own surveillance”.

Both Microsoft and Apple say they are looking into these breaches and deny allowing access to NSA spies and their programs. But sooner or later these tech giants will start facing questions about how safe their products are and whether or not they are vehicles for some nasty spyware.

When China’s Huawei and ZTE were trying to break into the American market, there was a hue and cry. The state-owned firms would jeopardise the security of users, unlike the private firms in the West, the argument went.

The guys at the NSA must have really enjoyed that joke.