Feeds

Leaked docs: GCHQ spooks secretly haul in more data than NSA

Whistleblower Ed Snowden: 'The GCHQ are worse than the US'

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The spooks at Brit intelligence agency GCHQ have been secretly tapping hundreds of fibre-optic cables to slurp data, according to leaked documents seen by The Guardian.

This massive interception effort operates under two programs titled, rather modestly, Mastering the Internet (as reported on by El Reg four years ago – Ed) and Global Telecoms Exploitation, The Guardian reported on Friday, based on documents shown to it by Edward Snowden, the deep throat behind multiple reports of mass data slurping by governments both in the US and abroad.

"It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight. They [GCHQ] are worse than the US," Snowden is reported to have said.

GCHQ is tapping 200 internet links, each with a data rate of 10Gbps, and the agency has the technical capacity to concurrently analyze 46 of these 200 streams of data at a time. It can store all the data generated by the 200 taps for three days, and then the metadata of this for 30 days via a system of what The Guardian terms "internet buffers", which sounds like Tivo, but for all net-traffic, we reckon.

The revelations come alongside reports of the NSA snooping on US and international citizens via the metadata held on them by telecommunication companies, and secret data-sharing agreements between the NSA and consumer-web giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and others under the PRISM scheme.

GCHQ's secret efforts capitalize on the UK's position at the edge of Western Europe, by tapping into the vast quantity of data flowing through cables around the UK and abroad.

US and UK Spies have been storing and sifting through vast amounts of this data culled from the fibre-optic cables via an operation codenamed Tempora, which has been running for a year and a half. Over 300 GCHQ and 250 NSA analysts sift through the data, which they use to identify communications relating to security, terror, organized crime, and economic well-being, according to an intelligence source that spoke to The Guardian.

Telegeography Brit cables

Small island, big data

As this map from Telegeography shows (above), the UK is in an enviable position as far as spook-spying goes, with numerous cables making landfall at the UK to sync up with major peering points.

This has led GCHQ to claim it has the "biggest internet access" out of the "Five Eyes" alliance of electronic eavesdropping organizations from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The agency's spying is authorized by a loophole clause in the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) that lets the Home Secretary sign off on mass interception of data as long as one end of the monitored communications is abroad – but due to the nature of the internet and how routing works, this happens more often than not.

Refreshingly, this apparent covert spying operation that targets the communications of UK citizens appears to be free of the bureaucratic complications that dog many other Brit government operations, with GCHQ lawyers allegedly telling NSA spooks, "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US". ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.