During a speech at a hacker convention five months ago, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander showed a PowerPoint slide that listed eight things his agency "does NOT collect." In the months since, every single claim has been proven a lie.
Today, the Guardian has revealed that the NSA once collected close to 200 million texts per day from all over the world, which were then datamined for info on everything from social connections, location, and bank info. (As the documents are from 2011, it's not clear if the practice is ongoing.) If that's the case—and those texts can be processed in near-real time—that means that the NSA may also be able to crack two-step authentication.
At this point, headlines starting with "The NSA Collects" have passed through to their fifth or sixth level of absurdity, but this new report shows just how obsessive the NSA's data collection is. Based on Snowden-leaked presentation documents from the GCHQ, the British counterpart to the NSA, the report details a pair of programs aimed at collecting and analyzing as many text messages as possible.
According to the documents, dated 2011, the NSA Dishfire program collected 194 million SMS messages a day in April of that year, while the Prefer program was dispatched to analyze their contents. The contact info and text itself is valuable data, but it's easy to forget that SMS can carry a wealth of other data as well. The presentation calls SMS text messages "a goldmine to exploit," and the Guardian lays out what that mine contains:
On average, each day the NSA was able to extract:
• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)
• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts
• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.
• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users
The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”