Gemalto Starts Investigating The Degree Of Breach Allegedly Done By NSA, GCHQ
Gemalto, the Dutch security firm, has opened an investigation looking into the claims that the company’s network was hacked, resulting in leakage of millions of communications worldwide.
Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked the documents showing partnership between UK’s surveillance agency GCHQ and US’ NSA to The Intercept, which has published a long report, detailing about how the two agencies partnered up.
The documents reveal that GCHQ and NSA teamed up in 2010 and 2011 to get illegal access to Gemalto’s internal network and steal encryption keys. This resulted in leakage of not only the communications of the consumers using Gemalto’s SIM cards, but also their data usage details.
The Intercept reported that Gemalto was particularly targeted because of its size. Gemalto produces embedded software on chips used in online banking and electronic identity authentication. It also manufactures SIM cards and next-generation credit cards. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world are their clients. While being a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands, Gemalto operates in 85 countries and has more than 40 manufacturing facilities.
Now, the Dutch company has issued a statement saying it was totally unaware of the attacks, but also said that it couldn’t confirm whether the allegations were true. Gemalto also said it would launch an investigation soon.
In a statement issued today, the Dutch company says:
The publication indicates the target was not Gemalto per se – it was an attempt to try and cast the widest net possible to reach as many mobile phones as possible, with the aim to monitor mobile communications without mobile network operators and users consent. We cannot at this early stage verify the findings of the publication and had no prior knowledge that these agencies were conducting this operation.
Since the encryption keys were stolen, it would have given free access to the mobile networks and allowed the two surveillance agencies to wiretap communications, without the approval of mobile network provider. The keys are used to authenticate the user with the network provider, and to allow them to talk with each other.
So stealing encryption keys are like stealing keys of a building from the teller’s desk, giving the thief access to all rooms of the building.
The degree of breach is not known, and it is difficult to catch the thieves — NSA and GCHQ — because they have left no traces on the networks. So in order to create a secure network and to avoid it happening in the future, Gemalto needs to understand how the attacks were made, and how much the thieves got. This is the main agenda of the investigations that the company would start soon.
“We take this publication very seriously and will devote all resources necessary to fully investigate and understand the scope of such sophisticated techniques,” Gemalto said in the statement.