Photo: Andreas H / Flickr
The internet backbone — the infrastructure of networks upon which internet traffic travels — went from being a passive infrastructure for communication to an active weapon for attacks.
According to revelations about the QUANTUM program, the NSA can “shoot” (their words) an exploit at any target it desires as his or her traffic passes across the backbone. It appears that the NSA and GCHQ were the first to turn the internet backbone into a weapon; absent Snowdens of their own, other countries may do the same and then say, “It wasn’t us. And even if it was, you started it.”
If the NSA can hack Petrobras, the Russians can justify attacking Exxon/Mobil. If GCHQ can hack Belgacom to enable covert wiretaps, France can do the same to AT&T. If the Canadians target the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Chinese can target the U.S. Department of the Interior. We now live in a world where, if we are lucky, our attackers may be every country our traffic passes through except our own.
Which means the rest of us — and especially any company or individual whose operations are economically or politically significant — are now targets. All cleartext traffic is not just information being sent from sender to receiver, but is a possible attack vector.
Here’s how it works.