VPN Security only Virtual
One example is virtual private networks (VPN), which are often used by companies and institutions operating from multiple offices and locations. A VPN theoretically creates a secure tunnel between two points on the Internet. All data is channeled through that tunnel, protected by cryptography. When it comes to the level of privacy offered here, virtual is the right word, too. This is because the NSA operates a large-scale VPN exploitation project to crack large numbers of connections, allowing it to intercept the data exchanged inside the VPN -- including, for example, the Greek government's use of VPNs. The team responsible for the exploitation of those Greek VPN communications consisted of 12 people, according to an NSA document SPIEGEL has seen.
The NSA also targeted SecurityKiss, a VPN service in Ireland. The following fingerprint for Xkeyscore, the agency's powerful spying tool, was reported to be tested and working against the service:
fingerprint('encryption/securitykiss/x509') = $pkcs and ( ($tcp and from_port(443)) or ($udp and (from_port(123) or from_por (5000) or from_port(5353)) ) ) and (not (ip_subnet('10.0.0.0/8' or '172.16.0.0/12' or '192.168.0.0/16' )) ) and 'RSA Generated Server Certificate'c and 'Dublin1'c and 'GL CA'c;
According to an NSA document dating from late 2009, the agency was processing 1,000 requests an hour to decrypt VPN connections. This number was expected to increase to 100,000 per hour by the end of 2011. The aim was for the system to be able to completely process "at least 20 percent" of these requests, meaning the data traffic would have to be decrypted and reinjected. In other words, by the end of 2011, the NSA's plans called for simultaneously surveilling 20,000 supposedly secure VPN communications per hour.
VPN connections can be based on a number of different protocols. The most widely used ones are called Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and Internet Protocol Security (Ipsec). Both seem to pose few problems for the NSA spies if they really want to crack a connection. Experts have considered PPTP insecure for some time now, but it is still in use in many commercial systems. The authors of one NSA presentation boast of a project called FOURSCORE that stores information including decrypted PPTP VPN metadata.
Using a number of different programs, they claim to have succeeded in penetrating numerous networks. Among those surveilled were the Russian carrier Transaero Airlines, Royal Jordanian Airlines as well as Moscow-based telecommunications firm Mir Telematiki. Another success touted is the NSA's surveillance of the internal communications of diplomats and government officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.
Ipsec as a protocol seems to create slightly more trouble for the spies. But the NSA has the resources to actively attack routers involved in the communication process to get to the keys to unlock the encryption rather than trying to break it, courtesy of the unit called Tailored Access Operations: "TAO got on the router through which banking traffic of interest flows," it says in one presentation.