I wanted to draw attention to several things in the NSA presentation that the Guardian didn't mention but that struck me as interesting (having a computer security background). The first is this map:
Several questions arise:
- Do these nodes represent actual taps into Internet cables for raw data acquisition? Or processing/storage nodes in the data-analysis cluster? If the latter, why distribute them so much in places where they will be harder to guard?
- There are many nodes shown throughout continental Europe. Is this with the knowledge and acquiescence of European intelligence agencies? Or is this a map of the infrastructure for spying on them? Or just commercially leased data storage/compute facilities?
- What does the red dot in the middle of China represent? Ditto the one in Russia?
- What do the string of red dots just above Antarctica represent?
Another very interesting part is this description of a possible query to XKeyscore:
VPN here will mean "Virtual Private Network" - systems which companies and other organizations use to provide secure encrypted access to the enterprise network for remote users (eg people working from home, or employees on business trips). This slide appears to suggest that the NSA has the ability to break the encryption of at least some commercial VPN systems (if so, this is a fact that is not generally known).
It's less clear, but there's at least a hint of something similar here:
Does "content" in the last bullet mean the decrypted plaintext of the Word documents or PGP protected email? If not, what would be the point of looking at the encrypted content? This raises the further question; is the NSA is able to break the encryption of MS Office documents and PGP encrypted email?
This suggests that the NSA scans computers for some fraction of the globe looking for vulnerabilities and maintains a database (seemingly called Tao) of those vulnerabilities to allow them to break in to those computers at a later time. This kind of inventory is also the necessary precursor to very large-scale rapid attacks such as flash worms.