UK SPY AGENCY Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ) has been accused of scanning servers in multiple foreign countries for vulnerable ports.
GCHQ has been accused of much since Edward Snowden loaded up on USB sticks and parted company with the US National Security Agency (NSA). Now, German newspaper Heise has accused GCHQ of port scanning servers wholesale.
It does this using a tool called Hacienda, which is Spanish for estate, according to the newspaper.
"In 2009, the British spy agency GCHQ made port scans a 'standard tool' to be applied against entire nations," Heise reports. "Twenty-seven countries are listed as targets of the Hacienda [programme]."
According to the report, supporting documents show that there is a promotional offer connected with Hacienda and an easy snooping switch-on feature. It says, "Readers desiring to do reconnaissance against another country need simply send an e-mail."
Hacienda can port scan all of the servers in a country to provide information on user endpoints and scan for potential vulnerabilities. The ability to port scan is not new, but such broad use by government spies, with 27 countries scanned by 2009, is somewhat shocking.
Targeted services include SSH, HTTP and FTP, among others. We put the question of Hacienda to GCHQ, and it reminded us that it will not comment on "intelligence matters". It did reiterate that everything that it does is done within a strict legal framework.
"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," said a GCHQ spokesperson.
"All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception of Communications and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position." µ