The National Security Agency secretly gained unauthorized access to Yahoo and Google’s worldwide system of data centers, the Washington Post reports.
According to Jan. 9, 2013 document provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the NSA gained unauthorized access to the communications links between Yahoo and Google data centers, which allowed the agency to send the data to NSA headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland.
The data centers comprise each company’s “cloud” – a global network of fiber optic cables that transfer data seamlessly around the world, including entire archives of users’ accounts. They are protected by high levels of both physical and cybersecurity.
By exploiting the communications links between the public Internet and each company’s cloud, the NSA is able to defeat the company’s data security standards and gain real-time access to user metadata and content, including text, video and audio. The NSA program is called MUSCULAR.
“By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans,” said the Washington Post.
MUSCULAR is a joint project with Britain’s Government Communication’s Headquarters (GCHQ), which is different from PRISM, a court-approved NSA Internet surveillance program made public through Snowden’s disclosures in June. Google and Yahoo denied knowledge of the NSA’s data interception activities under MUSCULAR; Google called the allegations “troubling.”