How the NSA & FBI made Facebook the perfect mass surveillance tool

Image Credit: ansik
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Update May 15 at 3:11 PM ET: Facebook and Akamai responded to VentureBeat’s report. Read their responses here.

The National Security Agency and the FBI teamed up in October 2010 to develop techniques for turning Facebook into a surveillance tool.

Documents released alongside security journalist Glenn Greenwald’s new book, “No Place To Hide,” reveal the NSA and FBI partnership, in which the two agencies developed techniques for exploiting Facebook chats, capturing private photos, collecting IP addresses, and gathering private profile data.

According to the slides below, the agencies’ goal for such collection was to capture “a very rich source of information on targets,” including “personal details, ‘pattern of life,’ connections to associates, [and] media.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 8.56.48 AM

NSA documents make painfully clear how the agencies collected information “by exploiting inherent weaknesses in Facebook’s security model” through its use of the popular Akamai content delivery network. The NSA describes its methods as “assumed authentication,” and “security through obscurity.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 8.57.21 AM

The slide below shows how the NSA and U.K. spy agency GCHQ also worked together to “obtain profile and album images.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 8.58.03 AM

Two months ago, following a series of Facebook-related NSA spying leaks, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg stated in a blog post that he’s “confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the U.S. government.”

According to a report by The Intercept, the above slides do not reveal the NSA’s Facebook surveillance program in full. The report states that the NSA also “disguises itself as a fake Facebook server” to perform “man-in-the-middle” and “man-on-the-side” attacks and spread malware [below].

As we wrote at the time, the “NSA’s Facebook targeting is reportedly a response to the declining success of other malware injection techniques. Previous techniques included the use of “spam emails that trick targets into clicking a malicious link.”

Following the report, released in March, Zuckerberg said, “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.”

Zuckerberg claimed he disapproved of the NSA’s actions and said that he’s spoken to president Barack Obama by phone to “express [his] frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future.”

Facebook and Akamai responded to VentureBeat’s report. Read our follow-up here.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

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122 comments
Ryan Gibson
Ryan Gibson

If you leave Facebook, how will we stay in touch?

Ryan Gibson
Ryan Gibson

And yet you have a Facebook account...

Ken Leamen
Ken Leamen

That is one huge parking lot filled with traitors to the American people. They couldn't even catch the Boston bomber even when they interviewed them and had access to their social media. Welcome to NK. Welcome to 60's Russia. Welcome to Cuba.

Ian Stein
Ian Stein

Have you thanked Cheney/Bush today?

Adam Young
Adam Young

or say "us". but hey, mission success, we're talking about it.

Adam Young
Adam Young

signing a post is a helpful practice -ay

Richard Clark
Richard Clark

It's the use of the word "me" that's out of sync here. VB would have better served its viewers by simply posting the article w/o talking about himself or itself or whatever VB is. Thank you.

Dave Meeker
Dave Meeker

"You" should stop posting things to venturebeat' social media accounts as a "person", and instead be a brand that people want to trust for industry news.

Afshan Mustafa
Afshan Mustafa

simple solution: if u want to be truly 'off the grid' don't jump on social media. privacy control won back.

Ryan Clark
Ryan Clark

No coincidence that building is a black cube either...

Alex Redman
Alex Redman

i guess if this bullshit scares you, then you must be really scared about all the documents snowden released. like the ones that prove that tall while aliens run america... you dummies will believe anything. im so glad all this NSA stuff has been proven lies now with the release of snowden's alien claims... unless... could it be? you believe that as well? or are you cherry picking? LOL typical christians! you had training with the bible....

Väike Päike
Väike Päike

it's ok, they still haven't figured out the '2intelligent use" part"

Rich Wang
Rich Wang

I have never viewed social media, or any free-use data-driven companies, as sanctuaries of privacy. I am only terrified of people who are that naive.

Wendy Sue Buckleman
Wendy Sue Buckleman

Yawn, 2 words "Patriot Act". Assume the worst and you won't be disappointed.

esseeeayeenn
esseeeayeenn

@mpesce Oh seriously. As if Facebook wasn't designed from the ground up to be exactly that. No security agency intervention necessary.

Harold Hoffman
Harold Hoffman

Why wouldn't the NSA and facebook team up its the perfect marriage. For a year I have been I  using a search engine called http://LookSeek.com/ for my searches, why give the other search engines your information, they will use it against you.

Gregory Floyd
Gregory Floyd

You do realize that they've been out of office for nearly six years? If you are unhappy with NSA and the FBI, you can thank our current morons-in-office. 

Gregory Floyd
Gregory Floyd

Exactly. We want the ability to tell the world about what we ate for lunch lunch or how fast we ran a half-marathon last weekend, but then we are surprised when the information is actually used. 

Gregory Floyd
Gregory Floyd

I remember when the building was being built. The entire thing is a large lead-lined box. No radio signals can get through the exterior walls. The windows aren't actually "windows." 



Gregory Floyd
Gregory Floyd

Government surveillance has been happening since at least the 1950s. As new ways of collecting data emerge, you can bet that the government will use them. 

russ_morton
russ_morton

@ohboywhatashot What trust in USA technology? that went out of the window years ago. Big Brother is watching, listening - and controlling.

ohboywhatashot
ohboywhatashot

... revenue Cisco collapsed after Snowden revelations