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International surveillance

by Josef Kafka

International surveillance

Beware the humble webcam! That seemingly innocuous device embedded into your laptop or perched atop your monitor that you occasionally use for Skyping is increasingly being usurped for widespread surveillance and international spying.

Revelations earlier this year by the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden showed the extent to which the US National Security Agency was directly spying on people by using their own webcams. Unsuspecting people were being recorded in their homes, often in compromising or sensitive situations, and the disclosures led to an uproar among the public.

GCHQ – one of Britain’s intelligence agencies that has close links with the NSA, according to documents released by Snowden – was also in on the webcam act. Documents provided by Snowden to The Guardian revealed that the agency ran a programme aptly called Optic Nerve, in which it intercepted webcam chats of over 1.8 million people around the world, some of which were sexually explicit.

Now, we learn that others are in on the home-spying game too – and that Russian spies are going much further and using any device they can find to snoop on people's private lives. CCTV cameras used for security in people's homes were being hijacked by Russian spies – and even baby monitors. Feeds and images were being uploaded to a Russian website, and at one point they showed a child's bedroom, and an office, gym and a shop, all at up to 600 locations around the UK.

While it's believed the hackers were tapping into the devices to highlight security deficiencies, and evidently will persist until owners upgrade their security measures, including their passwords – as urged by the British authorities – a more sinister type of surveillance may also be in progress. 

It's emerged that more than 1,300 British troops due to take part in military exercises in Poland this month are under orders to leave their electronic devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, at home due to intelligence that they will be used by Russian elements to spy on them.

The German authorities have warned separately, meanwhile, that government computer networks as well as those run by businesses in the country are coming under increasing attack by intelligence agencies in Russia and China. 

In the cyber era, everyone’s a target.


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