Report: NSA broke into UN video teleconferencing system

The agency reportedly cracked the system's encryption to snoop on internal UN communications

The U.S. National Security Agency reportedly cracked the encryption used by the video teleconferencing system at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

In June 2012 the NSA department responsible for collecting intelligence about the U.N. gained "new access to internal United Nations communication," German magazine Der Spiegel reported Monday based on information from secret NSA documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The NSA technicians were able to crack the encryption used by the U.N.'s internal video teleconferencing (VTC) system allowing VTC traffic to be decrypted. "This traffic is getting us internal UN VTCs (yay!)," one of the internal NSA documents said, according to Der Spiegel.

In less than three weeks, the number of U.N. communications that the NSA managed to intercept and decrypt rose from 12 to over 450.

According to another NSA internal report from 2011, the agency caught the Chinese spying on the U.N. and managed to tap into their signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection to gain insight into high interest and high profile events at the time.

Media reports in June based on documents leaked by Snowden claimed that the European Union mission to the U.N. in New York and its delegation in Washington, D.C. have also been bugged by the NSA, prompting E.U. officials to demand answers from the U.S. government.

The NSA was able to maintain persistent access to computer networks at E.U. delegations in New York and Washington by taking advantage of the Virtual Private Network (VPN) linking them, Der Spiegel also reported Monday.

"If we lose access to one site, we can immediately regain it by riding the VPN to the other side and punching a whole [sic] out," an internal NSA presentation said, according to the German magazine. "We have done this several times when we got locked out of Magothy."

"Magothy" is the internal code name used by the NSA for the E.U. delegation in Washington, D.C. The code name used for the E.U. mission in New York is "Apalachee."

New security systems were installed to protect the restricted area hosting the server room at the offices of the E.U. delegation to the U.N. in New York a few weeks ago, following the June reports about the NSA targeting the E.U.'s diplomatic missions in the U.S., Der Spiegel said. An investigation was launched and technicians have searched for bugs and checked the computer network.

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Tags intrusionGovernment use of ITsecurityU.S. National Security Agencyencryptiongovernment

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Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
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