A fresh report in the New York Times details an NSA surveillance practice that relies on a time-honored technology: radio.
The method involves bits of hardware and software that are part of a surveillance initiative called Quantum. Once the bugs are installed, they can send covert radio transmissions to receiver stations several miles away.
This means, yes, the NSA can get into computers even if they're disconnected from the Internet or local networks.
The bugs themselves can be external, like the specialized USB cables first detailed by Der Spiegel last month, or internal circuit boards, which serve the same purpose but are harder to spot.
Slashgear points out these installations "require some amount of human intervention, either from user ignorance, undercover agents, or, worse, collusion with hardware manufacturers."
But Quantum's known track record is impressive. According to the New York Times,
The NSA used it to map out Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant before it launched the Stuxnet worm. Now it's used to spy on targets like state-sponsored hackers in China and Russia. (Via Vimeo / Patrick Clair)
SiliconANGLE says the report doesn't detail exactly how widespread Quantum's influence is,
"and it says that there is 'no evidence' they were used in the US, but its believed that 'nearly 100,000' computers in other countries have some sort of device plugged into them, snooping away at their data."
It's also not clear if Quantum will continue to operate as it has since its inception in 2008.
The report comes just days ahead of an announcement from President Obama, who is expected to deliver a decision on changes to the NSA's programs and practices on Friday. (Via C-SPAN)