Snowden Used Common, Low-Cost Software to Access Millions of NSA Files

Well, this is just embarrassing. According to a new report from the New York Times, former-government-contractor-cum-whistleblower Edward Snowden used very unimpressive software to gather classified information from the National Security Agency. Not only that, the "crawler" software he used wasn't even that different from the one used to access the military and State Department files three years earlier during the WikiLeaks scandal — which just goes to show that you don't need to be Bond to get the goods.

The web crawler software — commonly known in the tech world as "a spider" — essentially goes from Web site to Web site via embedded links in documents, and can be programmed to copy whatever information it stumbles upon. It's usually used for searching, indexing and backing up websites, and basically runs automatically. According to the report, Snowden barely got his hands dirty at all — he set the the parameters and sat back while it ran the agency's systems, gathering roughly 1.7 million files he eventually took with him.

Of course, the agency has extremely sophisticated electronic walls keeping out foreign invaders, but, apparently, the protections against insiders? Not so much. Even the "inexpensive and widely available software" that Snowden used to go through the NSA's top-secret data — and which should have been easily caught— went under the radar. A lot of that is because he was working from an agency outpost that just hadn't had the latest security upgrades installed, because, as one official told the Times, “some place had to be last.”

Mostly it seems that the NSA was just, ironically, too trusting. “Once you are inside the assumption is that you are supposed to be there, like in most organizations,” Richard Bejtlich, the chief security strategist for a Silicon Valley computer security firm, told the TImes. “But that doesn’t explain why they weren’t more vigilant about excessive activity in the system.”

Some congressman have taken the report as added fodder for their Snowden-hate, comparing the ex-contractor yet again to famous double-agents. "This is very reminiscent of what happened with Hanssen, the FBI spy," Rep. Peter King said Sunday on CBS, referring to Robert Hanssen, who spied for Soviet intelligence agencies during the Cold War and is now serving a life sentence in Colorado. "We can't allow something like this to happen again."


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