The MUSCULAR project is found to be an aggressive use of NSA against US companies

Meet the National Security Agency's MUSCULAR program. (Image Source: The Washington Post)

Main Points:

The National Security Agency collects information that is connecting the data centers of Yahoo and Google, albeit secretly, as reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday. The NSA used the project MUSCULAR to do this in co-operation with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ (UK Government Communications Headquarters).

Study Further:

This report shows that if user don’t know that the companies know everything that he/she shares online and can use it secretly, companies also don’t know that governmental agencies know much about the secrets of the companies that can be used secretly.

In a classified document, dated January 9, 2013, the NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of data daily from Yahoo and Google datacenters back to its Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the agency collected 181,280,466 new records alone, including metadata such as traffic records, details relating to customer data (e.g. their sent and received emails) as well as the contents of communications such as text, audio and video.

This is the first time that the NSA has been reported to use the digital tools regularly against US companies.

These agencies, from undisclosed interception points, copy entire data flows across fiber-optic cables carrying information among the data centers of the tech giants. According to the Washington Post, this information comes from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and different talks with the other concerned officials.

The news was shocking as the NSA is already going through the court-approved process of getting the users’ information through a separate program known as PRISM, and the same reason caused Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, to show violent reaction towards the news saying the company is giving any type of access to the government to its systems.

“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform,” he said.

A Yahoo 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.”

“Our system of judicial and congressional oversight of the NSA is fundamentally broken, and dragnet programs like this one are the result,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “If we want the right to privacy to survive the NSA’s assault on it, we need both Congress and the courts once again to play the role the constitution envisioned for them.”

Sources:

NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say – The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-infiltrates-links-to-yahoo-google-data-centers-worldwide-snowden-documents-say/2013/10/30/e51d661e-4166-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story.html)

Report: NSA muscles in on Google, Yahoo data – USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/10/30/nsa-yahoo-google-data-centers/3314793/)

Meet ‘Muscular’: NSA accused of tapping links between Yahoo, Google datacenters – ZDNet (http://www.zdnet.com/meet-muscular-nsa-accused-of-tapping-links-between-yahoo-google-datacenters-7000022624/)

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutics, in Hajvery University, Lahore, Pakistan.