This just in from the Edward Snowden vault of government secrets: The National Security Agency is breaking into "potentially millions of computers worldwide" and infecting them with malware "implants" as part of an effort that is increasingly relying on automated systems and not human oversight, according to a by First Look Mediareport published Wednesday.
And the NSA is pretending to be Facebook to get the job done.
"In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social-media site as a launching pad to infect a target's computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive," First Look reported on Glenn Greenwald's Intercept channel, citing a classified slide presentation from 2009.
"In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer's microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites."
As part of the "industrial-scale exploitation," the agency is leveraging Facebook's global appeal to trick targets into logging in to a doppelganger version of the site, a technique dubbed "Quantumhand."
The agency is able to trick target computers by transmitting "malicious data packets" that disguise it as the real Facebook, a process illustrated in this top-secret animation:
In response to the story, the NSA in a statement said, "Signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose."
Facebook told First Look it has "no evidence of this alleged activity," and a spokesman said other social networks could potentially be similarly compromised. The company did not respond to a request for additional comment.