US Intelligence allegedly hacked Russian surveillance system more than a decade ago, hacker claims

Written by Jeppe W

Nov.22 - 2023 9:40 AM CET


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In a revelation that could have significant implications for global intelligence and surveillance dynamics, an American hacker and journalist, Jacob Applebaum, has claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies successfully infiltrated a Russian surveillance system more than a decade ago, in his dissertation, which was studied by Meduza"

The system, known as SORM, is a comprehensive hardware and software complex used by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for monitoring telephone conversations, SMS, and internet communications.

According to Applebaum, who had access to documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden's leak, the hacking of the Russian SORM system by US intelligence is detailed in his dissertation titled "Communication in a World of Pervasive Surveillance".

This document, defended at the Technical University of the Netherlands Eindhoven in March 2022, suggests that not only Russian but also American authorities had access to the private communications of ordinary Russians.

The dissertation cites unpublished documents from the NSA (US National Security Agency) which specifically indicate the compromise of Russia's SORM infrastructure.

It features an NSA slide with the caption 'you speak, we listen' in Cyrillic, alongside images of two Russian officers.

Meduza, a prominent independent Russian media outlet, has reviewed Applebaum's claims, noting that the alleged infiltration likely occurred before 2013, when Snowden released classified information to the media.

However, the precise details of how the SORM system was compromised or the extent of information accessed by American intelligence remain unknown.

SORM's infrastructure consists of various systems for telephone surveillance (SORM-1), internet tracking (SORM-2), and long-term data storage (SORM-3). It's unclear which of these systems were accessed, or if all were compromised. Compromising multiple systems would require significant penetration into various equipment and software types used in Russian surveillance.

Jacob Applebaum, known for his involvement in the Cult of the Dead Cow hacking group and work with WikiLeaks, did not respond to inquiries from Meduza. His findings were also highlighted on the blog, which focuses on electronic intelligence and communication security.

This development, if confirmed, reveals a complex layer of international espionage and raises questions about the extent of surveillance capabilities and privacy breaches. The incident underscores the ongoing cyber and intelligence warfare between global powers.