Latest Snowden leak: NSA helped British spies hack Dutch company to break into mobile phones

Britain’s electronic spying agency, in co-operation with the U.S. National Security Agency, hacked into the networks of a Dutch company to steal codes that allow both governments to seamlessly eavesdrop on mobile phones worldwide, according to the documents given to journalists by Edward Snowden.

WASHINGTON — Britain’s electronic spying agency, in co-operation with the U.S. National Security Agency, hacked into the networks of a Dutch company to steal codes that allow both governments to seamlessly eavesdrop on mobile phones worldwide, according to the documents given to journalists by Edward Snowden.

A story about the documents posted Thursday on the website The Intercept offered no details on how the intelligence agencies employed the eavesdropping capability — providing no evidence, for example, that they misused it to spy on people who weren’t valid intelligence targets. But the surreptitious operation against the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phone data chips is bound to stoke anger around the world. It fuels an impression that the NSA and its British counterpart will do whatever they deem necessary to further their surveillance prowess, even if it means stealing information from law-abiding Western companies.

The targeted company, Netherlands-based Gemalto, makes “subscriber identity modules,” or SIM cards, used in mobile phones and credit cards. One of the company’s three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas. Its clients include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, The Intercept reported.

The Intercept offered no evidence of any eavesdropping against American customers of those providers, and company officials told the website they had no idea their networks had been penetrated. Experts called it a major compromise of mobile phone security.

A spokeswoman for Sprint Nextel said Thursday that her company had no comment on the report, while a spokeswoman for T-Mobile said her company was referring reporters to Gemalto and declined further comment.

In addition to SIM cards, Gemalto is a leading maker of encryption systems for other business and industrial uses, including electronic payment processing and “smart” key cards that businesses and government agencies use to restrict access to computers or other sensitive facilities. “Their SIM cards would be used by most of the major telecom operators,” said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group, a Silicon Valley tech research firm.

The NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, former agency officials have defended using extra-legal techniques to further surveillance capabilities, saying the U.S. needs to be able to eavesdrop on terrorists and U.S. adversaries who communicate on the same networks as everyone else. The NSA, like the CIA, breaks the espionage and hacking laws of other countries to get information that helps American interests.

Still, the methods in this case may prove controversial, as did earlier Snowden revelations that the NSA was hacking transmissions among Google’s data centres. The Intercept reported that British government hackers targeted Gemalto engineers around the world much as the U.S. often accuses Chinese government hackers of targeting Western companies — stealing credentials that got the hackers into the company’s networks. Once inside, the British spies stole encryption keys that allow them to decode the data that passes between mobile phones and cell towers. That allows them to ungarble calls, texts or emails intercepted out of the air.

At one point in June 2010, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, as its signals intelligence agency is known, intercepted nearly 300,000 keys for mobile phone users in Somalia, The Intercept reported. “Somali providers are not on GCHQ’s list of interest,” the document noted, according to the Intercept. “(H)owever, this was usefully shared with NSA.”

Earlier in 2010, GCHQ successfully intercepted keys used by wireless network providers in Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, India, Serbia, Iceland and Tajikistan, according to the documents provided to The Intercept. But the agency noted trouble breaking into Pakistan networks.

Just Posted

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman holds up freedom of information requests that turned up no records. The Opposition requested back-to-school re-entry plan correspondence between Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and school boards, teachers and the media. Photo via Facebook live
NDP renews calls for Alberta gov’t to scrap K-6 draft curriculum

The NDP is once again calling on the Alberta Government to get… Continue reading

Earlier this week Alberta Health Services warned that Rocky Mountain House Health Centre emergency department would be temporarily without physician coverage from May 12, at 6 p.m., to May 13, at 7 a.m. (Photo contributed by the Town of Rocky Mountain House)
Doctors needed in Rocky Mountain House

Emergency department temporarily closed due to doctor shortage

The owner of Mae’s Kitchen in Mirror, says hamlet residents were ‘disheartened’ by a recent anti-restriction protest. The restaurant is following all the health restrictions in place. (Photo courtesy Mae’s Kitchen Facebook)
‘We don’t need that’: Mirror restaurant against recent anti-restriction protest

A week after a large anti-restriction protest at The Whistle Stop Cafe… Continue reading

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. A judge is expected to rule this morning on a challenge of the United Conservative government's inquiry into whether foreign groups have conspired against Alberta's oil industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Judge dismisses attempt to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ activities inquiry

Judge dismisses attempt to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ activities inquiry

Albertans receive vaccines at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Alberta Health Services says it has obtained a restraining order against a Calgary mayoral candidate who the agency says has threatened health workers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

In this file photo dated Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, doses of AstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19 sit in vials at the Fiocruz Foundation after being bottled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some health experts are questioning Canada's decision to accept thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this week just for them to sit in freezers in an Ontario warehouse because provinces have shunned the idea of using any more of them for first doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bruna Prado, FILE
Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Federal health officials are laying out their vision for what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal officials lay out road map for post-vaccine life as third wave ebbs

Federal officials lay out road map for post-vaccine life as third wave ebbs

An aerial view of housing in Calgary is shown on June 22, 2013. The Calgary Real Estate Board says the city's housing market is expected to stabilize, with some prices forecast to rise this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

CALGARY — Alberta Health Services says it has obtained a restraining order… Continue reading

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is seen during a news conference Thursday, June 18, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Guilbeault doubles down on Bill C-10 as opposition MPs demand Lametti testify

Guilbeault doubles down on Bill C-10 as opposition MPs demand Lametti testify

In this image from video, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2020. A U.S. lawmaker who has made a political crusade out of getting the border with Canada reopened is once again pressing his case with President Joe Biden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-House Television via AP
New CDC guidance makes it clear: time to reopen Canada-U.S. border, congressman says

New CDC guidance makes it clear: time to reopen Canada-U.S. border, congressman says

Cows and their calves graze in a pasture on a farm near Cremona, Alta., Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Thanks to a decade of rapid growth, there are now 279 facilities across Canada creating biogas from methane emitted by agricultural waste, landfills, green bin programs and municipal wastewater treatment facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Methane-capturing biogas projects in Canada reach 279, says association report

Methane-capturing biogas projects in Canada reach 279, says association report

Most Read