back to article NSA installed '50,000 malware sleeper cells' in world computer networks

America's NSA had established an army of "sleeper cells" – malware-infected, remote-controllable computers – on 50,000 networks by the middle of 2012. That's according to the latest leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reports that the elite NSA TAO (Tailored Access Operations) hacking squad …


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  1. Sheep!

    So do they have a court-issued warrant for every machine they've infected or have they simply got a "You can't touch this" card which means they're immune from prosecution, given that this is exactly the kind of thing they are supposed to exist to stamp out? And given that the US is so quick to insist on extradition for anyone it deems is doing this to computers in their own country, shouldn't the UK etc (which has extradition treaties in place) insist that the people running this program be extradited to stand trial in affected countries?

    (I know they won't but seriously, a 50,000 strong botnet is well past "passive observance of tagets", it's only real use is for cyber-esionage and cyber-terrorism (DDOS attacks etc))

    1. BillG

      But... but... didn't Obama say he'd stop all this?

      1. Miek

        I am having trouble distinguishing these NSA guys from the "Hackers" and other "Miscreants" on the internet.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Trouble distinguishing ...

          "Axis of Evil" is the phrase you're looking for

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > I am having trouble distinguishing these NSA guys from the "Hackers" and other "Miscreants" on the internet.

          The difference is in the size of their budget and the number of weapons that they have.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, thanks to Microsoft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "So, thanks to Microsoft."

      How so? These are Linux botnets - at ISPs, network providers, and company web sites.....

      1. Chemist

        "These are Linux botnets"

        Anything substantial to support this ?

        I've read reams about this and it all seems to be re-hash, no mention of Linux or Windows

  3. Gray
    Big Brother

    The privilege of being super

    What's the point of being a super-power if we can't tell the rest of the world where to get off?

    Do as we say, and pay no attention to what we do. We're the super-good guys, and most of you ain't!

    Just accept that fact that you all need constant watching!

    See how easy that is?

    (Be thankful we've got no camera in your ensuite ... yet.)

    NSA=no secrets, arseholes!

  4. Arctic fox

    Fairly ironic given recent complaints.........

    ............ about what the Chinese are allegedly up to, hmm? "Don't do what I do, do what I tell you to do"- and all that.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fairly ironic given recent complaints.........

      But given that the U.S. government was unaware (blissfully or intentionally) that the NSA was pulling this crap, they are were "officially" hypocrites hypocrites at the time...

      1. Arctic fox

        I am not indulging in a mendacious out-of-context quotation here.

        "But given that the U.S. government was unaware"

        I am simply trying to underline the point that I think you were making. The US authorities were either very well aware what was going on or they chose to be wilfully blind.

      2. Charles Manning

        "U.S. government was unaware"

        Oh please.

        They might be able to get away with denying knowledge, but it would be ridiculous to think that the various security people from the prez down didn't know this was happening.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where is the security/terrorism angle of this sort of trolling ?

    Vulnerable machines equates to anyone running insecure OS and not anything related to national security.

    What purpose does this serve for national security ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: What purpose does this serve for national security ?

      It lets us spot the sort of potential dissidents who ask questions like that

  6. Werner McGoole

    And I suppose...

    ...this is "all within the law" (TM).

    So did the UK government know the US was hacking our computers on a grand scale? If so, under what UK laws did they allow it to continue and was GCHQ involved? If they didn't know, then why not?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And I suppose...

      "did the UK government know?... If they didn't know, then why not?"

      If they did know, then of course, they didn't know because they didn't want to admit knowing. Either that, or they would never admit to not knowing because it could imply that they were claiming not to know when they knew and they knew that admitting that they knew was worse than pretending they didn't know what they patently knew (I think).

      Vive la révolution!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: And I suppose...

        Thank you for the clarification Sir Humphry, although I must say I never quite saw you as the sort of person using a nickname of "smurfette" on that internet thingy.

  7. chaosmagnet

    Another day, another bunch of felonies

    Until we find a way to hold everyone accountable to the same set of laws, the US government will give every appearance of having lost its legitimacy.

  8. Alan Denman

    No mention of which PCs and which systems.

    Must be Microsoft then !

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You see, if they'd used their powers to *take down* the botnet then the public wouldn't have nearly as much of a problem with all this surveillance stuff...if it's used for good. But these cunts always choose the Dark Side. That's why we have a problem with our privacy being continually dry arse-fucked.

  10. Old Handle

    What is this, I don't even

    What possible legal or ethical justification can there be for this? This is the "cyberwar" equivalent of gunning down a bunch of unarmed villagers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't get me wrong

      but have you been paying attention lately? There is no justification. They don't need one. They established the all-encompassing "war on stuff" and that's it. Regarding the gunning down of unarmed villagers – well yes, nicely put. Thanks to Manning we do know that such options are very much on the table. So there should be no surprise here either.

      Ethical justification, you almost got me there ;)

    2. btrower

      Re: What is this, I don't even

      @Old Handle:

      Re: "equivalent of gunning down a bunch of unarmed villagers"

      It is; and just as illegal acts carried out under the Nazis in WWII were not subject to statutes of limitations or justification because it was nominally 'legal' in their jurisdiction, this is not either. If/when sanity returns to the government, the perpetrators should be rounded up, tried and jailed.

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Doesn't botnet imply dDOS, bitcoin mining, codebreaking@home etc?

    So apart from wholesale theft (or is that copyright infringement ?) WTF are they doing with these machines?

    Enquiring minds....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It's the good guys! All they use it for is Folding@Home. Srlsy.

  12. Palf

    The NSA have demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are incapable of safeguarding the national trust - not to mention international good will. They should be disbanded forthwith. We did without them before. Accountability is a tenet of democratic government, and they spit on the idea.

  13. Snowball Solar System

    Nosy Human Nature

    The Constitution is no match for nosy human nature, so surveillance will always increase at the rate of the technology to do so, regardless of the threat.

    Notice that the only people upset are those outside the loop, including Congressional intelligence committees, but were you or I or Congressional oversight committees in charge, the state of affairs would not likely be so very different.

    1. btrower

      Re: Nosy Human Nature

      Re:"were you or I or Congressional oversight committees in charge, the state of affairs would not likely be so very different."

      Speak for yourself. My moral compass is still operational. Even if it were shown that the world was so very dark beyond our borders that the potential to examine all communications was necessary, I would never, not ever, place the power to do so into a single set of hands. Individual persons or entities cannot be trusted with that kind of power over others.

      To the extent that reasonable people have seen what information the government has classified, they have reported that classification serves to protect the classifiers, not the nation they claim to serve. Something similar is almost certainly true of the the surveillance going on. It serves to extend the power of the people doing the snooping. Sometimes they might use that power for good, but the potential for evil outweighs any benefit.

      I am well aware that there are very bad things going on in the world, that there are truly evil people out there and that sometimes good men must do very unpleasant things. However, it stretches the imagination that we have to somehow dismantle all domestic rights to maintain ... domestic rights.

  14. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    See title

  15. chris lively

    The NSA doesn't exist to "safeguard" anything. They aren't a police force, they aren't in the business of making sure American technical assets are protected. They are in the business of gathering and analyzing every single bit of intel they can.

    That said, I vote that we add a new amendment to the US constitution. It should state:

    "Federal, state and local governments and all representatives must abide by the same laws as US citizens. Any individual failing to abide by such laws are subject to the normal criminal and civil penalties in addition to 10 years in a federal penitentiary without eligibility for parole"

    That would stop this bullshit.

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