New Snowden Documents Show NSA's Dishfire Program's True Extent


The Edward Snowden fallout continues, and the extent of the NSA's intelligence gathering apparatus is becoming just a little clearer. Reports from said documents - which were reportedly part of a larger investigation - suggest that the NSA was collecting nearly 200 million text messages every day, and running said messages through extensive analysis to obtain several key points of information.

The NSA program in question, going by the name of “Dishfire,” gathers what the British agency known as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) referred to as, “pretty much everything it can.” That includes the expected communications of currently-established surveillance targets, but also well beyond that into people who seemingly have no connection to any kind of illegal activities. The GCHQ, according to reports, turned to the NSA's database for information on people in the U.K., including what were described as “untargeted and unwarranted” communications.

For the NSA, the text message database reportedly became what a 2011 presentation referred to as, “a goldmine to exploit” and yielded up all manners of information on travel plans, financial transactions, and a host of other points. What's more, the NSA was said to have a separate program known as “Prefer” into which the text messages were routed for automated analysis.

The extent of the program, as described in the reports, was especially noteworthy. Reports described a typical day in which the NSA could get over five million missed call alerts, said to be useful for “contact-chaining analysis” in which a social network could be derived by figuring out who gets called when, as well as 1.6 million border crossings (roaming alerts were the tipoff here) and over 110,000 names from electronic business cards. Additionally, over 800,000 financial transactions a day were part of the profile, in everything from text-to-text payments to just linking credit cards.

Vodafone, one of the biggest mobile providers on Earth, described its own reaction as “shocked and surprised,” saying that it was the first time it had ever heard of such things going on. Indeed, Vodafone elaborated, telling Channel 4 News: “What you’re describing sounds concerning to us because the regime that we are required to comply with is very clear and we will only disclose information to governments where we are legally compelled to do so, won’t go beyond the law and comply with due process. But what you’re describing is something that sounds as if that’s been circumvented. And for us as a business this is anathema because our whole business is founded on protecting privacy as a fundamental imperative.”

Concerning? Sure it is. The idea that a government agency, without much in the way of justification or permission beyond seemingly its own say-so, is swooping down on metadata in text messages and the like like a Black Friday shopper going after a deal is to say the least concerning. Reports suggest that the contents of the messages were left alone, but even just the metadata is disturbing enough as it is. It's the kind of thing that makes one want to call a congressman and ask just what precisely is going on in those various darkened rooms, either that or turn to the new Blackphone.

A solution to this issue is likely not forthcoming—even if the NSA said it would stop such activities, who would believe it? Until then folks, the world over may well be taking a hard look at the smartphone and wondering, just where does all this data go?

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

Related Articles

Coding and Invention Made Fun

By: Special Guest    10/12/2018

SAM is a series of kits that integrates hardware and software with the Internet. Combining wireless building blocks composed of sensors and actors con…

Read More

Facebook Marketplace Now Leverages AI

By: Paula Bernier    10/3/2018

Artificial intelligence is changing the way businesses interact with customers. Facebook's announcement this week is just another example of how this …

Read More

Oct. 17 Webinar to Address Apache Spark Benefits, Tools

By: Paula Bernier    10/2/2018

In the upcoming webinar "Apache Spark: The New Enterprise Backbone for ETL, Batch and Real-time Streaming," industry experts will offer details on clo…

Read More

It's Black and White: Cybercriminals Are Spending 10x More Than Enterprises to Control, Disrupt and Steal

By: Cynthia S. Artin    9/26/2018

In a stunning new report by Carbon Black, "Hacking, Escalating Attacks and The Role of Threat Hunting" the company revealed that 92% of UK companies s…

Read More

6 Challenges of 5G, and the 9 Pillars of Assurance Strategy

By: Special Guest    9/17/2018

To make 5G possible, everything will change. The 5G network will involve new antennas and chipsets, new architectures, new KPIs, new vendors, cloud di…

Read More