NSA Documents Reveal Goals of TAO Hacking Unit

Source: National Security Agency

Further information has come to light regarding the security of Americans’ phone and computer devices with an inside look at the Office of Tailored Access Operations — also known as the hacking unit of the U.S. National Security Agency — from Der Spiegel’s online international edition. The documents seen by the German newsmagazine are part of the trove released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Per the publication, a former chief of TAO wrote about the work being done in one of the released documents. “It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important,” she said, noting that TAO “needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations” and that it should “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations.”

This hacking operation has hit 258 items in 89 countries, according to Der Spiegel, and it dealt with 279 operations across the world by 2010. TAO has branched into a number of different divisions around the United States since its start, and the unit has been charged with looking into Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and countries in the Middle East with online attacks.

Specific to Mexico was an emphasis on the politicians within the Mexican Secretariat who would be good focuses for cyber spying. TAO also utilized Microsoft Error reports to dig into computers via “passive access,” which led to further burrowing into individual computers, Der Spiegel reports.

Following an open letter from U.S. tech giants, President Barack Obama has since sent a letter to the NSA with more than 40 recommended actions in a 200-page report.

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