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NSA tracks Google's cookies to find hacking targets

The Cookie Monster turns nasty
Wed Dec 11 2013, 16:39

PARANOIA INDUCING US surveillance outfit the National Security Agency (NSA) allegedly has been using Google's cookies to target hacking victims.

According to the Washington Post, documents released by ex-defence contractor and hide and seek champion Edward Snowden have revealed that the NSA has intercepted Google's cookies to target potential victims.

The PREF cookie is a Google specific piece of data that individually identifies computers. It usually is used to direct advertisements tailored to the user. However the NSA apparently has been able to leverage this usually benign user tracking tool to identify machines and launch hacking attacks.

The Washington Post also alleged that the GCHQ in the UK uses similar techniques. It's not clear whether Google is complicit in supplying this data, however it seems apparent that a US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order could force the internet search giant to release the information.

Similar cookies used in mobile phone data are also being collected in order to make location tracking of users' devices more accurate through the use of a program called HAPPYFOOT, which maps locations of devices based on the advertising sent to them.

Earlier this week, Google CEO Larry Page posted on the website of the industry consortium that has recently sought to convince the US government to rein in surveillance activities.

He said, "The security of users' data is critical, which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world."

Meanwhile, the NSA has remained unforthcoming about its shadowy surveillance activities, but it wrapped itself in the American flag and told The Washington Post, "As we've said before, NSA, within its lawful mission to collect foreign intelligence to protect the United States, uses intelligence tools to understand the intent of foreign adversaries and prevent them from bringing harm to innocent Americans." µ


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