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Hackers reverse engineer NSA surveillance bugs

It bugged the hell out of them
Fri Jun 20 2014, 14:54

HACKERS HAVE FOUND a way to reverse engineer the technology of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) spy gadgets.

Thanks to documents leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, the group has built a copycat device able to gather private data from computer systems.

The Advanced Network Technology catalogue, leaked by Snowden, is the Argos book of the NSA showing a range of toys available to agents. One such device known has a "retro reflector" had eluded identification, beyond that it acted as a bug, keylogger and screengrabber.

Michael Ossman and his team from Great Scott Gadgets, a Colorado based hacking group, decided that the best defence against such devices was to create their own to understand what makes them tick.

It transpired that the key technology being used is called software defined radio (SDR), an approach that uses software to generate radio transmissions through signal processing, doing away with a lot of hardware circuitry.

"SDR lets you engineer a radio system of any type you like really quickly so you can research wireless security in any radio format," Ossmann told New Scientist.

The technique can be used for almost any type of radio signal and therefore the devices are capable of tracking anything, from what you're listening to through a Bluetooth headset to the binary signals of your internet traffic.

The group, which will demonstrate its work at the Defon hacking conference in Las Vegas, runs a website at that is a repository for all of the information it gathered. µ


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