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Remember how we thought/hoped that keeping our computer offline would protect us from NSA snooping? Well, it won't! According to the New York Times' latest report from the Snowden files, the NSA has developed technology (under the Quantum code name, also used for those malware attacks) that can access computers through radio waves.

The device, called Cottonmouth I, was part of the 50-page catalog of fun spy devices Der Spiegel wrote about last month:

Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data via radio undetected, are available in packs of 50 for over $1 million.

NYT's report goes into more detail. "Cottonmouth I" is a USB plug with a tiny radio transceiver hidden inside. There's also a version that can directly inserted into the computer. The transceiver broadcasts to a briefcase-sized relay station ("Nightstand") which can be up to eight miles away.

There were no details on how many devices the transceivers have been implanted on or where, just that there is "no evidence" they're being used in this country. "Nearly 100,000" computers have some kind of NSA surveillance device implanted inside them, but the report doesn't break out how many of those are malware and how many are radio transceivers.

One interesting note: NYT says it knew some details about this program back in 2012 when it reported on the United States' cyberattack on Iran, but "withheld some of those details, at the request of American intelligence officials." This is something NYT has done before. David E. Sanger, who shares a byline on today's story with Thom Shanker, also reported the Iran story. He did not say what changed between 2012 and now to make it okay for him to stop withholding those details from us.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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