Feeds

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

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

High performance access to file storage

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". ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
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
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
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.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.