Feeds

Not just telcos, THOUSANDS of companies share data with US spies

It's all perfectly legal, trust us

High performance access to file storage

The slides leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden named nine companies that allegedly share data with US intelligence agencies, but according to a new report, the actual number of firms that collaborate with US spies may be much larger. Try thousands of them.

Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg reports that information sharing between private tech companies and US intelligence agencies is virtually routine, even though very few people within the participating companies are likely to know that it's going on.

Among the information frequently disclosed is early access to software vulnerabilities, where companies give US spies access to data on zero-day security flaws before it's made available to the public.

Sometimes that information is used to shore up domestic security, the report states, but other times it's used to allow intelligence agencies to exploit flaws in software sold to foreign governments.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw confirmed to Bloomberg that Redmond does participate in "several" information-sharing programs, but said that they were designed to give the government an "early start" on risk assessment and mediation.

And yet, government officials said Microsoft "doesn't ask and can't be told" how the information it shares is actually used.

Similarly, a spokesman for Intel security subsidiary McAfee said the US government is a key customer of the data it compiles on computer security threats.

"McAfee's function is to provide security technology, education, and threat intelligence to governments," the company said in a statement. "This threat intelligence includes trending data on emerging new threats, cyber-attack patterns and vector activity, as well as analysis on the integrity of software, system vulnerabilities, and hacker group activity."

In many cases, the report claims, companies voluntarily hand over information that intelligence agencies might otherwise need a court order to obtain.

Such information sharing is typically done in total secrecy, where only the highest-level executives of a company are even aware of the relationship.

Often, a sole executive will be appointed the "committing officer" in charge of disclosing information to US spies. That exec will typically be given documents granting him or her immunity from all civil prosecutions related to the information sharing.

Similarly, the report claims that the major US internet providers – including AT&T, CenturyLink, Level 3, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon – have received letters from the US attorney general indemnifying them from lawsuits under US wiretap laws.

But immunity from prosecution isn't the only thing the government has to offer. Sources claim that intelligence agencies will frequently offer companies an inside peek at their data in exchange for more of it.

For example, Google cofounder Sergey Brin was reportedly given a temporary classified clearance in 2010 and was allowed to sit in on a briefing about the hacking capabilities of China's People's Liberation Army.

Still other execs reportedly cooperate with intelligence agencies out of patriotism or a sense that they are helping to defend national security.

The types of information shared can range from customer metadata to detailed descriptions of telecommunications networks and systems, both foreign and domestic – and often the strict legality of such information sharing is unclear.

"That's what makes this issue of oversight so challenging," Jacob Olcott of Good Harbor Security Risk Management told Bloomberg. "You have a situation where the technology and technical policy is far outpacing the background and expertise of most elected members of Congress or their staffs." ®

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.