‘Operation Auroragold’ NSA’s operation to tap into GSM carriers worldwide

Operation AURORAGOLD : National Security Agency (NSA) tapped into cellphone networks worldwide

The Intercept today released a report about Operation AURORAGOLD undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA) to tap into the cellphone networks across the globe.  The startling report says it is based on the documents contained in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by serial NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.  According the Snowden leaks archive material, Operation Auroragold maybe a running program of NSA and the earliest case of it being used was in March 2011 just two weeks before the Western allies intervened in Libya.

The report says that NSA received a confidential message to hack into Libya’s cellphone networks and monitor text messages. Acting upon the message NSA reportedly hacked into the Libyan cellphone networks and provided the western allies with blueprint for the future military intervention. This proves that Auroragold was operational that time and The Intercept says that Libya is not an isolated case.

GSMA targeted through spying

The report says that NSA  regularly spies on the umbrella organisation of GSM service providers called the GSMA . The GSM Association, an influential U.K.-headquartered trade group that works closely with large U.S.-based firms including Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Cisco, and is currently being funded by the U.S. government to develop privacy-enhancing technologies. The report says that NSA was spying on GSMA to find or even create weak spots in carriers’ network technology because the member carriers share confidential carrier related information though the GSMA platform.   The report says that Auroragold may be aiding NSA to crack the A5/3 encryption cipher.  A5/3 is latest type of encryption for cellular communications, Edward Snowden leaks had indicated that NSA has already cracked the older and weaker A5/1 cipher which is still widely used for encryption by the GSM carriers.

Codenamed AURORAGOLD, the covert operation has monitored the content of messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with major cellphone network operators, intercepting confidential company planning papers that help the NSA hack into phone networks.

Wireless Portfolio Management Office

According to The Intercept, the network coverage is handled by a unnamed NSA cell called Wireless Portfolio Management Office. This cell has been tasked with defining and carrying out NSA’s strategy for exploiting wireless communications. It works in active conjunction with the Target Technology Trends Center (T3C).  The T3C monitors the latest developments in the GSM field and keeps the WPMO updated about the latest privacy enhancing technologies implemented by the carriers.  The Intercept says that T3C motto is “Predict – Plan – Prevent,” and its logo is a picture of the Earth overshadowed by a large telescope.

'Operation Auroragold' NSA's operation to tap into GSM carriers worldwide

The report says that both these NSA cells are so capable that as of May 2012,  NSA had technical information of about  70 percent of cellphone networks worldwide which is 701 carriers of an estimated 985 carriers worldwide.  It also added that NSA maintained a high profile list of 1,201 email “selectors” used to intercept internal company details from employees.

As per The Intercept  “Selector” is NSA term for a unique identifier like an email address or phone number. It added that from November 2011 to April 2012, between 363 and 1,354 selectors were “tasked” by the NSA for surveillance each month as part of AURORAGOLD.

The report says that it reached out to NSA to confirm the presence of Operation AURORAGOLD and Vines, the NSA spokeswoman, told The Intercept that the agency was committed to ensuring an “open, interoperable, and secure global internet.”

“NSA deeply values these principles and takes great care to honor them in the performance of its lawful foreign-intelligence mission,” Vines is reported to have told The Intercept.   She also declined to comment whether AURORAGOLD was active or has been dumped by NSA as of today.

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