What's on tap at the NSA? Google's and Yahoo's private fiber backbones

The NSA is eavesdropping on overseas data links for Google and Yahoo, and it's now swimming in your data. But to what end?

If you needed more proof that our nation's industrial surveillance complex has gone completely off the rails, look no further than today's Washington Post. There you will find another blockbuster story on NSA spying that should make your blood boil, assuming it isn't already hot enough to cook an egg.

Bottom line: The spooks are tapping into private fiber backbones operated overseas by Google and Yahoo, decrypting all the traffic before it gets into their private clouds, storing copies, and re-encrypting it before sending it on its way. Yes, this is another gift from Edward Snowden.

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Per the Post's Barton Gellman and independent security wonk Ashkan Soltani:

According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA's acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency's Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records -- ranging from "metadata," which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.

The story is accompanied by a hand-drawn illustration showing how and where the wires get tapped, along with a smiley face indicating (one assumes) a happy NSA agent now swimming in unencrypted data.

What's on tap at the NSA? Google's and Yahoo's private fiber backbones
Credit: Washington Post

Yahoo and Google: Not happy campers

Unlike PRISM, in which major tech firms respond to legal requests for data from the spooks, this program, known in NSA parlance by the code name "Muscular," appears to be a complete surprise to both Google and Yahoo, who sound none too happy about it. The difference between each tech company's fierce denial of the original claims about PRISM -- that they had allowed the NSA "direct access" to their networks -- and their response to this revelation is pretty telling. Per the Post article:

In a statement, Google said it was "troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity...."

At Yahoo, a spokeswoman said: "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...."

Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing. "I hope you publish this," one of them said.

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