After it was criticised in Washington at the weekend, with a rare statement from whistle blower Edward Snowden who cited the fourth amendment from the US Bill of Rights, the NSA faced a pretty tough weekend.
Ok so a gathering of people to be critical of the elected powers is hardly breaking news or going to cause a sweat on the brow of the government, but the“Stop Watching Us” Rally in Washington, DC on the weekend followed an IT issue at the NSA.
The NSA initially denied that its website went down at the weekend, claiming instead that it was offline for several hours due to “an internal error that occurred during a scheduled update”.
There were several media reports about the website going down for around six hours, with some suspicions it was down to a movement of software, services or files, or a simple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.
However during the outage the NSA said that it was not bothered about the incident as no classified information was in danger. In a statement it denied that the site had been subjected to a DDoS attack, it said: “NSA.gov was not accessible for several hours tonight because of an internal error that occurred during a scheduled update. The issue will be resolved this evening. Claims that the outage was caused by a DDoS attack are not true.”
Anyone can suffer a “blue screen of death”, and the term has become so well known that it has inspired Hallowe’en costumes, and perhaps this unexpected outage has cost the NSA dearly in terms of reputation, but for all we know this could have been an scheduled update that went a bit awry. Generally the spotlight is always going to be on government agencies, but for the NSA it is going to be rather tricky to avoid Chinese whispers.
In other NSA revelations news (sometimes it seems that a news digest is
not complete without some), the Guardian reported that 35 world leaders were monitored by the NSA in a directive signed off during the second George W. Bush presidency (2004-2008). In this instance, the victims were sourced from senior officials in departments such as the White House, State and the Pentagon, and while the leaders were unnamed, it does not help diplomatic relations when you consider that some of those 35 are still in the top jobs.
One of those is likely to be German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in the position since 2005. She recently suspected that she was being monitored and according to Reuters, she told President Obama that if such surveillance had taken place it would represent a “grave breach of trust” between close allies.
Later, Caitlin Hayden, the White House’s National Security Council spokeswoman, said that the US was “not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel”, but refused to comment on all alleged surveillance.
Of course it is not just world leaders that are apparently being monitored, NBC claimed that tens of millions of phone calls were monitored in Spain over a single month last year.
Finally in other news, it was revealed that an unnamed “leading” City law firm fought off sophisticated cyber attacks within the last fortnight. As a third party, the law firm contains more data and information that most would probably appreciate, and while they are not the typically attacked vertical, I suspect that many do not have the infrastructure to defend themselves against sophisticated hackers.
Of course this is a sweeping statement, and one I hope is wrong, but attackers are clever and know both where the “soft underbelly” and “low hanging fruit” is, so if this is the next target then great news that the firm fought the attackers off.