Britain’s electronic spying agency, along with the NSA, reportedly hacked into the computer networks of a Dutch company to steal codes, which allowed both governments to spy on mobile phones worldwide.
The documents given to journalists by Edward Snowden did not offer details on how the agencies used the eavesdropping capabilities. However, it certainly shows how the NSA and Britain’s spy organization will push the limit of their surveillance prowess.
The company in question was the Netherlands-based SIM card giant Gemalto. Its SIM cards are used in mobile phones and credit cards. Its clients included AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, The Intercept reported.
The Intercept did not reveal any evidence of eavesdropping against American customers. Company officials told the website they had no idea their networks were compromised.
Gemalto is also the leading maker of encryption systems for other business and industrial uses. The company makes “smart” key cards for businesses and government agencies to restrict access to sensitive material.
The British spies targeted Gemalto engineers around the world and stole encryption keys to allow them to decode the data that passes between cellphones and cell towers, The Intercept reported. The process allows them to acquired texts or emails 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report