NSA reportedly broke into Google, Yahoo data center links to collect info

How deep the trove of NSA-related data in Edward Snowden's hands goes we still don't know, but today documents from the ex-government contractor revealed yet another way data belonging to hundreds of millions of people worldwide may have been caught in the agency's nets.

With Snowden docs and confirmation from "knowledgeable officials" in hand, the Washington Post reported the NSA has secretly infiltrated the fiber optic links that connect Google and Yahoo's global data centers.

According to a top secret doc from earlier this year, the NSA can funnel millions of records a day from the companies' internal networks to its own headquarters. The data collected isn't always stored, but the info spans everything from metadata to content, including text, audio and video.

The main tool the US spy agency uses to collect data went by the macho name of MUSCULAR. The Post reported British intelligence agency GCHQ operates MUSCULAR in conjunction with the NSA.

Google Center

Sealed with a smiley face (credit: Washington Post)

What do Google and Yahoo say?

Google and Yahoo denied they were privy to the governments' backdoor activity, both issuing denials to the Post.

In a statement, Google said it was "troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity."

"We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links," it continued.

In September, Google said it was in an "arms race" with government spy agencies to encrypt data flowing between its centers.

A Yahoo spokeswoman had this to say: "We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency."

Armed with Prism and court orders, the NSA has been able to force US tech firms to hand over data in a front-door manner. Those actions make MUSCULAR "unusually aggressive," the Post noted.

Update: The NSA responded to the Post's report with a statement calling several assertions in the paper's report "not true." It iterated that it is a foreign intelligence agency, committed to protecting the privacy of US citizens and "minimizing the likelihood of their information in our targeting, collection, processing, exploitation, retention, and dissemination."

You can read its full statement here.

Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle was previously a news editor at TechRadar, leading consumer tech news and reviews. Michelle is now a Content Strategist at Facebook.  A versatile, highly effective content writer and skilled editor with a keen eye for detail, Michelle is a collaborative problem solver and covered everything from smartwatches and microprocessors to VR and self-driving cars.