NSA has Monitoring Access to All Pakistani Telcos

New revelations, in connection to whistle-blower Edward Snowden, suggest that National Security Agency has access to all Pakistani mobile phone operators that enables agency to access and monitor voice, SMS, location and data transactions of each and every Pakistani mobile phone user in Pakistan and abroad.

In lay-man’s language, each and every phone call, text messages we send or data that we consume on our phones is accessible by NSA and they can listen, record, store and use this information for the purposes they deem right.

While NSA has said that its interception efforts are targeted at terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other foreign targets and not ordinary people, but fact remains the same that they have the access to the entire communication we do on our cell phones, making us feel less secure.

The Intercept, an online publication dedicated to report on the documents provided by Edward Snowden, yesterday revealed that NSA has ability to intercept 70 percent of cellphone networks worldwide — that is 701 of an estimated 985 networks — including five operators operating in Pakistan.

Report claims that NSA manages to intercept cellular networks by exploiting security flaws in the networks and at times by planting flaws into the networks to later use them for its own benefit.

NSA is reportedly to have information-sharing agreements with United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; meaning that our cellular data can be accessed by people by at least five countries.

Each and every phone call, text messages we send or data that we consume on our phones is accessible by NSA and they can listen, record, store the entire communication happening in Pakistan

Report said that operation for interception of cellular networks, codenamed AURORAGOLD is active since at least 2010. Below is a July 2012 map that shows 100% of Pakistani networks are in access of NSA.


Click on image to view larger full-size map

How Networks are Intercepted

As per Intercept’s report, NSA maintains a list of some 1,200 top-tier professionals working in cellular networks worldwide plus the officials of GSMA, a body that regulates and maintains cellular standards. Email communication of these 1,200 professionals is routinely intercepted to find out encryption details of cellular networks and other deep-packet knowledge of cellular security.

Report suggests that NSA compromises cellular networks by exploiting security flaws in these networks and at times by planting flaws into the networks to later use them for its own benefit.

As per Snowden files, NSA specifically targeted the GSMA’s working groups that are responsible for identifying and implementing new technologies and policies for maintaining cellular security.

Snowden files suggest that another important element that NSA uses come through obscure but important technical documents circulated among the GSMA’s members known as “IR.21s.”. These documents are exchanged between most GSMA members (cellular operators) that allow their customers to connect to foreign networks when they are roaming.

IR.21s documents also contain security information about networks and the technology they use, thus interception of these documents allow NSA to specifically know about cellular types, their security features and further information to be used to comprise a network.

GSMA didn’t respond to the query and instead said that its lawyers are looking into findings to prepare a response.

Via The Intercept

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Tech and telecom reporter for over 15 years

  • bhai mere 1000s of satellites apko sirf TV dekhne aur Mausam ka haal batane ke lye nahi chori US/EU ne

  • we need to do all communications on secure platforms like bbm, viber, whatsapp instead of making phone calls and send texts by using native service,

  • Almost impossible.

    All Pakistani telcos have “Legal Intercept (LI)” modules installed as per order from Pakistan Telecom Authority and security agencies.

    Without going in to too much detail, here’s how these LI modules work; they are large systems that PHYSICALLY tap in to Mobile Switching Systems (MSC) and/or Media Gateways. It means that all traffic is routed through these LI systems. And all of these LI systems are connected to central systems provided to ISI. I am not sure which other agency has access to these systems.

    Now since you need to have PHYSICAL access to these systems, I am guessing this “revelation” that NSA has access to all phone calls, SMS etc is not true. Accessing data/internet traffic is another thing because data has to pass through international gateways almost always. So NSA with its vast resources could tap in to those in other countries or undersea cables.

    If NSA actually has access to all our local calls / SMS etc, then it can’t be done without cooperation from Pakistani agencies. Which is not that far fetched an idea because our government actively cooperates with Americans.

    • Agree! I think you haven’t studied the USA budget where an apart budget is selected to give black money to the country for this type of circumstance. They have an ability to buy anything what they want!

      • Its not necessarily about bribing our government. As you know, our government and US work hand in hand against terrorists. Drone strikes are an example.

    • I have sorry news for you: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/05/photos-of-an-nsa-upgrade-factory-show-cisco-router-getting-implant/

      While they may need (as you say) physical access, it’s only if the hardware isn’t already “modified” to add a backdoor.

      I have heard of a story from a reliable source about laptops used at a defence company in US. One day, their IT people stopped several people from using a particular brand of laptop and confiscated them. It finally was revealed that even when the laptops were turned off, their wifi radios were switching on and their BIOS (firmware) was sending data to an IP in China.

      So it is not just a one-sided attack from NSA, other governments are getting into it as well.

  • i know this since 2010. 99% spying done by FB, Google, youtube. They have a record on every person in Pakistan who uses internet. USA is also considered an expert in Spying. Recently spying done on Political members of pakistan. Why america is pushing towards to expand the internet to the whole world for free, through the satellites ? One thing get every bit of data on every person.

    • FB and Google don’t need to do any spying you idiot! WE FREELY GIVE OUR DATA TO THEM!!!!

      • only Desired data is given Whether it is personal or not depends on the Person, who is uploading his info to social sites

        • Neither Google of Facebook break into your computers to get data you haven’t given them. So where is the “spying”??? No where.

          • This is unknown move whether they do break in or not because either way they don’t leave traces behind. it is true that In google Giant data warehouses Google already has file on our info like where we live and where we went ? and other interest using Our “searching interest”. and it is directly under control of CIA my friend and They spy on us. no doubt.

            • It is unknown whether you are intelligent or gullible to conspiracy arguments because either way there’s no evidence. But your comments strongly suggest the latter.

              If there is no proof of their hacking, then why do you believe it? In the same sense, you might as well believe that time travellers went into the past and killed Liaqat Ali Khan. The same amount of proof of time travellers is there for google’s hacking.

              • Dude seriously How can you trust some one who keeps a record on our travelling and secretly record video and audio from our android phones?

                • There is ==ZERO== evidence that Android phones have Google software to record audio and video without your permission.

                  I repeat: ZERO.

                  Secondly, people are free to install AOSP Android, which contains 0% Google services. It is 100% possible to have an Android phone that does not contain a single Google application or background service like Gmail, Youtube, Google Play Services, etc. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT POSSIBLE.

                  So you don’t know what you’re talking about, pure and simple.

  • Pakistani authorities DO cooperate with US authorities on these aspects. We know that all the deposit and withdrawal information from our Pakistani banks gets reported to IRS (tax department of United States). Standard Chartered in Pakistan is ones such bank which has to file these reports to FinCen as a day-end procedure. In a similar fashion, all telecommunications in Pakistan get passed on to NSA, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

  • Even if they spy on our call and SMS and data, so what ? Why should a lamer be concerned about that? I don’t think anything to worry about in it. sanu kee?

    With that I must say that I have doubt about this news and NSA spying activities. although it is not impossible, but hard enough being very near to it, due to a lot of resources (storage,energy,HR). They may be capturing the data for suspect people worldwide, but NOT everyone’s.

    • Do you have curtains in your house? Are you doing anything wrong in your house? If not, why do you need curtains?

      Privacy has nothing to do with what you are doing right or wrong.

    • Yes and why do have doors on your bathrooms if you’re doing nothing illegal inside, you idiot?

  • It has been revealed that NSA will not intercept letters sent through pigeon technology

      • Never replied or posted a reply here before, but will do so now. I was interning in 1999 in karachi with a US based IT company, in their international internet helpdesk. We used to get letters and emails from Pakdatacom back then, and some of the more “interesting” emails and letters of laws and regulations from them concerned us confirming to them that the company was not using any VPN of any kind and that we were not allowed to “encrypt” any user internet data, and that all data had to be channeled to the SEE ME WEE 3 underwater cable internet connection (i..e one computer in karachi), for the purposes of “monitoring” and checking. This was an order from them, implying in legal language that if we did not reply and comply soon, the ISP license would be revoked.

  • @shahidsaleem:disqus

    You referred to a link to a tinfoil hat kind of website.

    The article you quoted says that shipments of networking equipment, Cisco in this case, is intercepted by NSA and “backdoors” are installed. Do you realize how incredibly stupid this claim is? There are millions of networking devices all over the world. Do you think all of them are intercepted by NSA? Besides, technology companies like Cisco, MS etc are already under scrutiny for installing backdoors by THEMSELVES to facilitate US government.

    Now about Pakistan; I stand by my point that such interception requires physical access. Its not a hollywood movie where a person sitting behind a computer clicks a button and types random code to access your telephone call in Pentagon.

    Finally, our telecom infrastructure is a mix of Chinese (Huawei and ZTE) and Western (Ericsson, NSN, Motorolla) equipment. My point being; stop believing in propaganda from all sides. Do some research before you believe in these things.


    • Unfortunately for you, arstechnica is SO NOT A TINFOIL SITE, and OTHER documents released by Snowdon are verifiable and contain the same info. In fact, did you fail to notice that Cisco’s non-US reported revenues are DOWN this year compared with the expected increase?

      Seriously, anyone who thinks arstechnica is a tinfoil site and unreliable and pro-conspiracy is… untrustable.

      Now if you had read it carefully and had read related analysis posted by Bruce Schneier and others, you would have noticed that it was a TARGETED operation, not wholesale monitoring. TARGETED towards a certain organization in a certain country. In fact, the NSA group responsible for this is called TAO — and do I need to tell you what the T in TAO stands for or can you figure it out yet???

      Lastly, would you kindly explain the case of the Greek prime minister phone tapping/recordings and the mysterious death of the telecom engineer in the heart of the issue a few years ago? That, also, had to do with lawful intercept being activated. How was that enabled and not noticed for so long? In the end, because the engineer was dead, NO ONE IS CERTAIN WHO WAS LISTENING TO THE PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS.

      (Note: that exchange was also western, Siemens.)

  • Come on dude, really??? … you are just building castles in thin air when your argument rests on IR.21 … for anyone who has ever really seen an IR.21, rest assure that IR.21 does NOT reveal any specifics of network’s encryption which could be of any pragmatic use for interception … IR.21 reflects only “nomenclature” info at max about encryption which is only as good as knowing, for example, if a network operates on 900 or 1800 MHz frequency …

  • They are working for jews, and jews are doing this effort to make anti christ(Dajjal) hands strong. by the time he will appear in this world, he would have the access on every thing of the world which jews are performing for him to make his job easy. But he can not harm those who are performing duties as par Allah SW’ s ordered (Mujaheddin). They will be safe from this fitna.

    • Oh shut up. You are so mentally weak you think Jews can do everything and you can do nothing and you are powerless. Well let me tell you, YOU ARE POWERLESS. Not because of what Jews or Christians or Hindus are doing, but because YOU THINK YOU ARE POWERLESS.

      Attitude is important, and your attitude is that you have lost. So stay lost and confused, but the rest of us don’t necessarily have to feel like you.

  • God has a system of angels to keep tab on our activities and maintain discipline. How do you expect governments to nab criminals and wrong doers in this age of technology.

    • So what’s your point? That governments should invade everyone’s privacy simply because the technology makes the tools available? Even after all the FIA/ISI/etc. monitoring of our telephone calls and SMS, how many criminals have gone to jail?

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