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Hackers Reverse-Engineer Nsa's Leaked Bugging Devices


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Turn on, tune in, sneak out.

Some of the wireless spying devices used by the U.S. National Security Agency have been reverse-engineered by security researchers.

Credit: Michael Olivers/Alamy

Security researchers have reverse-engineered some of the wireless spying devices used by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Led by Michael Ossmann of Great Scott Gadgets, the researchers recreated the devices using the NSA's Advanced Network Technology catalog, recently leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The catalog describes and pictures gadgets that agents can use to conduct computer or phone surveillance, including "retro reflectors" that attach to parts of a computer to collect private information in a range of ways. For example, retro reflectors can listen in on ambient sounds and gather keystroke data.

In the past, security engineers have been unable to counteract retro reflectors because only the NSA and its partners understood how the devices worked. Critical to the reverse-engineering was an software-defined radio (SDR) that Ossmann created called HackRF, which consists of a plantable "reflector" bug and a remote SDR-based receiver. Ossmann found the reflectors are relatively simple devices consisting primarily of a small transistor and a 2-centimeter wire that serves as an antenna. SDR helps obtain information from the reflectors, with the radio emitting a high-power radar signal to make the reflector wirelessly transmit keystroke data.

From New Scientist
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