US, UK spies hacked firm for access to data

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Feb 20, 2015 23:58 IST

US and UK spies hacked into the computer network of the world’s largest manufacturer of SIMs, and stole encryption keys that give them access to phone calls and data all over the world, according to a new report based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Intercept, which has been his favored media outlet, reports on those documents, the hacking was carried out jointly by America’s NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The SIM manufacturer, a Dutch company called Gemalto, counts over 450 wireless network providers all over the world, including all the major companies in the US, among its clients. According to the company’s website, it works with five companies in India, two of whom were listed as value-added sellers and distributors to government agencies.

NSA’s ability to listen in phone calls and monitor data in the US and abroad is a well-documented fact now through various programs, most famously PRISM, established by many leaks from Snowden who now lives in Moscow.

But PRISM and other programs had to have the approval of a clandestine court, which would hear and decide. The Gemalto hack, on the other hand, allowed spies unregulated access.

The Intercept based its report on a secret 2010 GCHQ document that said “successfully implanted several machines and believe we have their entire network”.

GCHQ operatives gained this access by mining private emails and social media accounts of employees of Gemalto and major telecom all over the world, using an NSA program.

The company said in a statement it was not aware of this activity and “will devote all resources necessary to investigate the scope of such techniques.”

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