NSA denies mass spyware attack – Zuckerberg calls out Obama on future of internet

14 Mar 2014

The NSA has dismissed reports of a mass spyware effort as inaccurate and denied it used Facebook servers as a honey trap for surveillance. Now, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called on US President Barack Obama to prevent the NSA from derailing the internet.

New revelations to emerge from National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden claim the NSA was in cahoots with the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) with respect to a plan to infect millions of computers around the world with spyware.

It had been claimed a Facebook server had been compromised and used to infect as many as 100,000 computers with software that could read hard disks and even snoop on a computer’s microphone and video camera.

However, the NSA has denied this ever was the case. In a statement, it said: “Recent media reports that allege NSA has infected millions of computers around the world with malware, and that NSA is impersonating US social media or other websites, are inaccurate.

“NSA uses its technical capabilities only to support lawful and appropriate foreign intelligence operations, all of which must be carried out in strict accordance with its authorities. Technical capability must be understood within the legal, policy, and operational context within which the capability must be employed.

“NSA’s authorities require that its foreign intelligence operations support valid national security requirements, protect the legitimate privacy interests of all persons, and be as tailored as feasible. NSA does not use its technical capabilities to impersonate US company websites. Nor does NSA target any user of global internet services without appropriate legal authority. Reports of indiscriminate computer exploitation operations are simply false.”

The future of the internet is at stake

Despite the NSA’s latest denials, what can’t be denied is the furor surrounding Snowden’s previous revelations about mass surveillance by the intelligence community carried out against everyone from ordinary internet users right up to EU leaders.

The US is rightly seen as the birthplace of many of the internet’s top businesses, from Google to Amazon and Facebook, not to mention pre-eminent IT giants, from Microsoft to IBM, Intel and HP.

Zuckerberg last night spoke out against the damage the revelations caused an industry that should be seen as one of America’s great hopes for the future.

He said the US government should be the champion for the internet, not its greatest threat.

“As the world becomes more complex and governments everywhere struggle, trust in the internet is more important today than ever,” Zuckerberg said.

“To keep the internet strong, we need to keep it secure,” he said. “That’s why at Facebook we spend a lot of our energy making our services and the whole internet safer and more secure. We encrypt communications, we use secure protocols for traffic, we encourage people to use multiple factors for authentication and we go out of our way to help fix issues we find in other people’s services.

“The internet works because most people and companies do the same. We work together to create this secure environment and make our shared space even better for the world.

“This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behaviour of the US government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.

“The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.

“I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.

“So it’s up to us – all of us – to build the internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.”

And there you have it, the leader of a company that has united more than 1bn people around the world calls on the leader of the free world to stand up and make a difference by preventing the NSA from overstepping its brief.

Your move, Obama.

NSA image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years