An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report on Motherboard written by Joseph Cox: Several branches of the US military have gained access to a powerful internet monitoring tool that claims to cover over 90 percent of the world’s internet traffic and in some cases has access to the email data, browsing history and other information such as internet cookies as per the contract data and other documents checked by Motherboard. In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden says a whistleblower contacted his office regarding the alleged unlawful use and purchase of this data by NCIS, a civilian law enforcement agency that is part of the Navy, after filing a complaint about the Department’s official reporting process was of defense, according to a copy of the letter Wyden’s office shared with Motherboard.
The footage reveals the sale and use of a previously little-known surveillance capability based on private sector data purchases. Developed by cybersecurity firm Team Cymru, the tool, dubbed Augury, aggregates a massive amount of data and makes it available to government and corporate clients as a paid service. In the private sector, cybersecurity analysts use it to track hacker activity or attribute cyberattacks. In the government world, analysts can do the same, but agencies dealing with criminal investigations have also acquired the ability. The military authorities have not described their use cases for the tool. However, the sale of the tool still shows Team Cymru obtaining this controversial data and then selling it as a company, which has alarmed multiple sources in the cybersecurity industry.
“The network data includes data from over 550 collection points worldwide, including collection points in Europe, the Middle East, North/South America, Africa and Asia, and is updated daily with at least 100 billion new records,” according to a description of the Augury platform in reads a Motherboard-verified U.S. government procurement log. It adds that Augury provides access to “petabytes” of current and historical data. Motherboard has determined that the US Navy, Army, Cyber Command and Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency combined paid at least $3.5 million to access Augury. This allows the military to track internet usage with an incredible amount of sensitive information. Motherboard has extensively covered how US government agencies gain access to data that in some cases would require a warrant or other legal mechanism, simply by purchasing data that is commercially available from private companies. Most of the time, the sales center revolves around location data collected from smartphones. The Augury purchases show that this approach of buying access to data also extends to information more directly related to internet usage. “The Augury platform is not designed to target any specific user or user activity. Specifically, the platform does not hold subscriber information required to link records to users,” Team Cymru said in a statement to Motherboard. “Our platform does not provide any user or subscriber information and does not return results showing any pattern of life, which prevents it from being used to target individuals. Our platform collects only a limited sample of the available data, and is further restricted by only allowing queries for limited samples and limited data, all of which originate from malware, malicious activity, honeypots, scans, and third-party providers that provide feeds of the same. The results are then further limited in scope and scope of the results returned. Team Cymru said in another email.
Charles E. Spirtos of the Navy Office of Information told Motherboard in an email that NCIS expressly “conducts investigations and operations in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. He added that NCIS did not use Netflow in any criminal investigation, but that “NCIS uses Netflow data for various counterintelligence purposes.”
Meanwhile, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, which the whistleblower claims forwarded his complaint to the Navy, told Motherboard that it had received Wyden’s letter and was reviewing it. The Office of the Naval Inspector General declined to comment, referring Motherboard back to its counterpart at the Department of Defense. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency was also transferred to the Department of Defense.