Since Edward Snowden’s first set of leaked documents hit the internet last year, we’ve seen a number of new revelations about the powers and abilities of the NSA to gather information about every day people without their knowledge. The latest of those bunch is that the NSA has been targeting cellphone network providers the world over looking for exploits to break the encryption used to keep your phone calls and text messages secret.

We’ve been constantly warned that there’s more to come from the Snowden files. And today The Intercept – the online home of Glenn Greewald, one of the journalists who broke the Snowden story – has a new revelation of online spying targetted at mobile phone networks around the world. And it’s pretty bleak reading.

Operation AURORAGOLD is the name of the NSA’s program that saw the agency, along with its partners in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, team up to infiltrate mobile network operators (MNOs) in almost every country on the planet. Since 2010, AURORAGOLD’s job was to monitor the email traffic of more than 70% of the world’s MNOs to listen for reports of any exploits that the NSA’s “signal development” teams to could use to snoop on network traffic.

South Africa is listed in the 1-25% category on a slide showing how many of the networks in each country were being monitored which, considering we only have four MNOs in the country, means that one of them was compromised on some way.


One of the stand-out targets of AURORAGOLD is the international GSM Association whose members include more than 800 MNOs and other industry parties like Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Cisco, Sony, Nokia, Samsung, Ericsson and Vodafone. The leaked files show that the NSA was clearly targeting “working group” meetings at the GSMA where new network technologies were discussed and implemented and problems with current technologies were also dealt with.

The large-scale monitoring of the networks themselves meant that the NSA was already able to break the encryption used on TD-LTE networks – the kind of LTE network that Telkom Mobile uses – in 2010, long before any major rollout of the technology had begun around the world.

The GSMA’s lawyers have already begun scouring the documents to see if there is a case to be opened against the NSA and perhaps the British government and the GCHQ – the British version of the NSA.

Whether or not South Africans are at risk to monitoring is still not known but as the scale of the NSA’s monitoring program unfolds it’s difficult to imagine that they are safe from NSA infiltration.

[Source – The Intercept]
David is a technology enthusiast with an insatiable thirst for information. He tends to get excited over new hardware and will often be the one in the room going "Its got 17 cores, 64GB of RAM and a 5" 4K flexible OLED display, oh it makes phone calls too?" Currently uses: Too many phones. Wants: World peace... and more phones.