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The Treasure Map Initiative – How The NSA Is Planning To Map The Entire Internet

Monday, December 29th, 2014

After targeting Americans with its surveillance programs, NSA apparently has the entire internet community in its crosshair. According to the latest documents leaked by Edward Snowden and a report published by the German publication Der Spiegel, NSA and the British agency GCHQ have plans to build a real-time interactive map of the global internet. The existence of the program, also known as the “Treasure Map” initiative, was first revealed by the New York Times in late 2013 but at that time its true significance was not known. However, the latest reports suggests that the program plays an important role in global surveillance and the data provided by it can also be used for far more sinister activities.

What is the Treasure Map Initiative?

In layman terms, Treasure Map could be termed as the bird’s eye view of the entire internet. The aim of the program is to map all the devices (computers, Smartphones and tablets) connected to the internet at any particular time. According to some reports, the program provides the ability to monitor 30-50 million IP addresses and 10 million traceroutes every single day. The initiative also provides unparalleled tactical advantage to the “Five Eyes” alliance countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) since the data gathered via the program could be used for disruptive activities like online attacks, cyber warfare and exploit planning.

The Der Spiegel report also provides previously unknown details about how the NSA and GCHQ were able to implement the Treasure Map program. As per the report, the intelligence agencies were able to infiltrate the infrastructure of major German Telecom companies like Deutsche Telekom and Netcologne. Deutsche Telekom is a major Tier 1 internet infrastructure provider with operations in multiple countries (including US) and it has over 60 million customers in Germany. Netcologne, on the other hand, has 400,000 customers and its own fiber optic network within Germany. By targeting the infrastructure of these two companies, NSA was not only able to monitor the data passing through their networks but also the devices connected to them. Additionally, the security agencies targeted telecom companies and ISPs from 11 other countries and leased servers at data centers throughout the world. By leasing servers, NSA was able to feed data into the Treasure Map system without having to actually hack the Telecom infrastructure of some of the targeted countries.

In addition to targeting Telecom companies and ISPs, NSA also gathered data from satellite based internet service providers like Stellar, IABG and Cetel. Unlike monitoring of broadband or Wi-Fi based internet services, surveillance of satellite based internet communications is not easy. So in order to monitor the communications of customers and top officials of these companies, the security agencies most likely breached their firewalls and installed access points within their networking infrastructure. As it can be imagined, these kinds of activities are illegal in most countries so the NSA has clearly broken many laws in order to maintain its surveillance supremacy.

The Treasure Map initiative points to the frightening reality that internet users from all over the world are now potential targets of online surveillance. It also makes it explicitly clear the security agencies like NSA would stop at nothing to capture private data of millions of unsuspecting people.

December 29, 2014

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