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NSA Tapping Underwater Fiber Optics

CmdrTaco posted more than 13 years ago | from the 31337-h4xx0rs-at-the-ns4 dept.

Privacy 186

An anonymous reader submitted an interesting story about the NSA splicing fiber optics under water in order to eavesdrop on digital traffic. This happened years ago, so who knows what they're doing today. Not surprisingly, apparently actually getting the tap is relatively easy. Sifting through the zillions of bits and finding something useful is a little trickier.

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Who knows... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#202063)

Maybe NSA had something to do with this previous slashdot story [slashdot.org] about an optical fibres cable linking Europe, Asia and Australia, which was damaged on the ocean floor near Singapore.

1m thick? Are you a gringo? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#202064)

Are you aware that one meter is about 1.1 yards? Surely, not even you gringos who are stuck to mediaeval units would commit such a gross error.

A fiber optic cable is, at most, 40 mm thick, which means, in those brain-dead units "people" in the USA use, 1.5 inches.

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#202065)

Or they can do what they did and have a law passed which force the telcos to install equipment which allows them to grab whatever information they want right from the switch. National security, you know.

Shock! Shock! Horror! Horror! (3)

mosch (204) | more than 13 years ago | (#202067)

Dear lord, it sounds to me like the NSA is some sort of spy agency! Does the United States government know about this?

--
"Don't trolls get tired?"

Re:Old News --- REALLY Old (4)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 13 years ago | (#202068)

The US Navy is still doing this. At the end of Blind Man's Bluff - upstairs somewhere, the author talks about the fact that a couple (2-3) Navy subs that have been specially modified with diving chambers keep getting Presidental Unit Citations for classified missions, every year. Since the Subs that first tapped these lines were specially modified and got PUCs for classified missions...the author suspects it's still going on.

I think the Navy also did it in the Barrets Sea to the north of Murmansk as well.

It's really interesting how the Navy thought to tap into cable. A Navy Officer remebered boating with his dad on the Mississippi and seeing signs that marked cable runs under water, so he talked head of Naval Operations into sending subs in to see if the Russians had the same sort of signs. They did and the rest is history.

Old News --- REALLY Old (1)

stevew (4845) | more than 13 years ago | (#202074)

The US was doing this thing years and years ago to the Soviet Union. We snuck into harbors off of Siberia and put pods on their underwater cables to gather intelligence.

So what is the big surprise?

This is not such a big deal (1)

Sleeper (7713) | more than 13 years ago | (#202075)

The signal in optical fiber is amplitude modulated. Which means this is a signal easy to tap.
For amplitude modulated signal in general (the least secure of them all) the only way you can notice if you are being taped is if the amplitude of the signal suddenly drops.
This is how, by the way German army dumped a lot of desinformation on Red army through their phone cables in the fields at the beginning of the Warld War II. You see, Sovied Union did not have good quality quartz crystals that time so the Red army tryed to tap german phone lines with the most primitive headphones (you know, based on coil and metal membrane) which consumed noticable amount of power. So as soon as Germans would notice that power in the line droped they'd start some lame conversation with pretty bad consequences for Soviet troops.(mind you, the situation changed by the middle of the WWII).
Now to tap long haul optical line is not big deal because the optical signal is regenerated anyway. You have to do it for many reasons. Amplitude dops due to propagation. About 30 dB per 100 km. You also need to do the correction of the signal that being distorted by dispersion.
If you regenerate signal with repeater then there you go. Because this thing first converts optical signal to electrical then amplifies it and converts back to optical. So in this case you can just tap electrical part.
If signal is being regenerated with EDFA (erbium doped fiber amplyfier) you still can tap it.
It is actually pretty cool idea and was proposed by the guy (as far as i remember) from BT about ten years ago. He and coworkers published about three papers on that subject in various journals including IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics.
What you can do is insert semiconductor optical amplifier in the optical link. It's primary purpose would be to amplify the optical signal. If you really want to hide your presence you need to put it in zero loss regime when amount of the gain in it is equal to the amount of the loss it brings to the system. If you keep this semiconductor optical amplyfier at constant current then voltage drop acros it will be variable if any optical signal comes throug it. So basically you will get electrical signal as a byproduct.
The rest is easy. Everybody knows what SONET frame looks like :) . And pattern is pretty predictable. That is if you know where you put your tap. You will know how the header of the frame should look like.
It is interesting that when it is was proposed this idea was discarded because semiconductor optical amplifiers were not that fast at all. Nowdays they can be used for 10 Gb/s optical links but not for 40 Gb/s which is not big deal yet because 40 Gb/s is not that widely implemented.

Re:Fiber Splicing (1)

Sleeper (7713) | more than 13 years ago | (#202076)

Yes this is tricky part. You can probably do it only during upgrade/repare serivice. Because underwater fiber cable is actually pertty complex thing.
I don't know how modern cables look like but ther first cables that were put in 80's had cooper core and cooper shell with bunch of fibers in between (don't remember how many). Cooper shell and core were used to deliver power to the repeaters which during those times where basically photodiode+LED pair. Which was OK that time because fibers were multimode anyway.

Re:This is not such a big deal (1)

Sleeper (7713) | more than 13 years ago | (#202077)

Actualy neither of both. I just know something about telecom. The only point i was trying to make in pevious post is that. It is possible, _in_principle_) to tap optical link and being unnoticed.
One fellow many posts above said that OTDR (optical time domain reflectometry) will detect the tap. What OTDR does is spits optical pulses into the optical link and then detects any pulses that come back. And of course using time of the arrival of the relfected pulse you can calculate where reflection happened. I think this can be remidied by puting optical isolator in front of the tap (whatever this tap is). Optical isolators are very common. Every transmitting laser for long distance has it because these lasers are sensitive to the back reflection.
Now the questioin is what are you going to do with the signal theat you read from the optical link.
The signal in optical cables is not just some kind of stream of bits. The protocol for physical layer is SONET. The minimal unit of this protocol is SONET frame. if you draw on a piece of paper the rectangle 9 squares high and 90 squres long this will be common representation for SONET frame. Each square is one byte. First four coulomns of this matrix (if i remember correctly) will be header which tells what kind of information this packet carries plus some other datails. Then there will be two or three coulomns gap (empty) the rest of the coulomns will be so called payload (actual infromation). So technically speaking you can distinguish SONET frames from each other. For this specific task you don't need supercomputer. Conventional highspeed digital electronics will do fine. But how are you going analyze payload that's different question. And I don't know the answer. I gues to have one or two Crays for a start would be nice. :)

Pr0n, mp3, and DivX making NSA's life tough (2)

Goonie (8651) | more than 13 years ago | (#202078)

It seems like the NSA is drowning in data - instead of encryption making their life tough, it seems like the crude steganoraphy of the data flood perpetrated by great unwashed using Napster and downloading porn is enough to overload their supercomputers . . .

Now, I suppose, we *really* know why governments around the world want to eradicate music-swapping and "indecent" Internet imagery - they can't monitor what we're really up to through all the noise :)

Of course, you can take anything said in public about intelligence activities with several grains of salt. If the NSA *can* successfully and selectively monitor undersea cable traffic, they're not going to be so silly as to broadcast that fact to the world.

Go you big red fire engine!

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (2)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#202080)

A modern fiber optic cable is probably using Erbium doped fiber amplifiers. These do not convert the light back into electrical signals. They directly amplify the light.

Traffic Analysis (4)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#202081)

Assume that everyone uses PGP for their email, and that it is impractical for the NSA to crack PGP encrypted messages. The NSA will still want to tap every data communications link that they can get access to. The reason is traffic analysis. You can get a lot of useful information by analyzing the source, destination and volume of messages. This is already a common intelligence gathering and criminal investigation technique when applied to call logs from telephone switching systems.

Echelon (1)

jonbrewer (11894) | more than 13 years ago | (#202082)

This would be Echelon [echelonwatch.org] .

Funny they didn't mention it in the article. (but then again they rarely do.)

Read more at cryptome.org [quintessenz.at] .

They can sift data better than you think (1)

Sangui5 (12317) | more than 13 years ago | (#202083)

I know of one project at the local uni to do realtime monitoring of massive quantities of data. The twofold purpose is to monitor the communications of military personel to guard against accidental leaks, and to aid in identifying copyrighted material.

It more or less comes down to semi-dedicated hardware that can grep at insane speeds. Most of the parts necessary are comercially available (even some GPLed software components), needing just a little bit of glue to tie everything together. The professor heading the project was looking for somebody to help him do the implementation. He described how it works, and claimed that it should be trivially easy. And except for some problems with self-similarity in the data stream (finding "bb gun" in "bbb gun"), it has been. Even so, this problem can be trivially solved by throwing more hardware at it, or by putting just a little bit of effort into the software.

If an undergraduate research assistant can do a damn good job of it with 3 weeks coding and under $10K in hardware, just think about what the NSA could do. I'd rather put my trust into good crypto, rather than the firehose effect.

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (2)

maken (12497) | more than 13 years ago | (#202084)

The reason for the high voltage running through the line is to power repeaters every 100 miles or so. Why not just tap into one of the repeaters, which convert the optical signal into electronic signals and then back again? Sounds pretty easy to me, given the right equipment. As for sorting the data the repeater is able to deal with it as is the router or whatever is on the receiving end so why wouldnt whatever technology the nsa has. The problem would be storage.

maken

Real Tapping Happens at NAPs These Days... (3)

Ron Bennett (14590) | more than 13 years ago | (#202086)

Word to the wise, encrypt your critical traffic since a good deal of internet communications is vulnerable to being intercepted at NAPs (Network Access Points) as well at other major connection points. Private peering arrangements routed outside of NAP (ie. MAE-East, MAE-West, etc) facilities can reduce risk in some instances, but typically can't eliminate all risk since the majority of internet traffic travels through at least one major NAP; and the exact connections, etc are often unknown to all parties, even to the people who operate the NAP facilities.

In closing, governments, etc are typically years ahead of the media and common-knowledge in regards to intellegence gathering. NAP tapping is never mentioned in the media, but I'm sure it's happening. Be forewarned :-)

Re:Isn't it ironic... (3)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 13 years ago | (#202088)

Isn't it ironic that the NSA stands for the very thing thay, behind our backs and behind the scenes, they attempt, and perhaps succeed, to invade?

The NSA has two jobs -- one is to breach foreign information security, but their other is to keep US information secure. So it isn't ironic -- they just have to know security from both sides.

---------------------------------------------

but how does NSA get the data? (4)

decowski (20290) | more than 13 years ago | (#202091)

has anyone else wondered how the NSA is shipping the data? wouldn't you need the equivalent of another fibre-optic cable running alongside to transport the data back to virginia?

considering that laying an optical cable is somewhere O(1e9) $ and not trivial to lay undetected, it must be quite a feat...

Impossible (2)

toofast (20646) | more than 13 years ago | (#202092)

Because in my MCSE stydy guide, Networking Essentials, it sais that Fiber Optics are impossible to tap.

So there.

Re:Impossible (2)

toofast (20646) | more than 13 years ago | (#202093)

Yea, I was sarcastic....

Oh well.

Re:Getting the data back to the NSA... (1)

urtica (26207) | more than 13 years ago | (#202094)

> The only way I can see this happening is if the NSA installed their own undersea
> fiberoptic cable to send it back to themselves on.

Of course not!
They have specially trained teams of hyperintelligent octupi down there analysing the data in real time, then the brain waves of the octupi are picked up using a reverse feedback effect of the orbital mind control lasers, which then beam it back down to your brain, where it leaks out into your mobile phone (even when it's switched off and not in the room) and they recover the signal from there.

OTDR Will find splice taps (2)

EQ (28372) | more than 13 years ago | (#202096)

The use of an OTDR can find irregularities that woudl be cause by splices. If the cable companies do scans routinely for differentials against baseline (for preventative maintenance), the splices by No Such Agency will show up.

Too easy? (1)

Ducon Lajoie (30475) | more than 13 years ago | (#202097)

Just get a fishing boat to rip off a cable. The article implies that this happens quite often. Especially since fiber cables are tiny compared to mammoth old style copper cables.
That must give the NSA or whoever a couple days to splice the cable at another point. Service goes back online, all looks normal.

Am I missing something obvious? You don't even need to be discreet. Just provide a decoy.

Ten years ago, $20,000 and a van (2)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 13 years ago | (#202098)

Ten years ago, it took $20,000 worth of a van full of electronics. Now it probably only takes $5,000 and a suitcase. Of course, the problem with the van thing was that most people don't want their fiber optic cables tapped. It's just a thing with them -- a phase they're going through. They'll get over it.
-russ

Re:All these grand theories !?! (2)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 13 years ago | (#202099)

According to economic theory, you should be able jack up interest rates, throw millions of people out of work, and within a year the economy will recover, but resume at a much lower inflation rate. As it turns out, Ronnie was right. But try explaining that to the people at the beginning of the recession who lost their jobs.

Actually, you have no choice once you start inflating your currency. It's recession now or depression later. Look at Turkey. The Turkish Lire is now 1,110,500 to the dollar. It was only 580,000 to the dollar when I was there a year ago. Eventually they'll be hauling lire around in wheelbarrows because they're so worthless.
-russ

Similar to antother interview (4)

Azza (35304) | more than 13 years ago | (#202100)

"I'm not going to sit here and dissuade you from your views" - Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden

"Oh, Kent, I'd be lying if I said my men weren't committing crimes"- Homer J. Simpson

This is impossible. Or not. (3)

revscat (35618) | more than 13 years ago | (#202101)

It isn't known whether the cable's operator detected the intrusion, though former NSA officials say they believe it went unnoticed.

When I was a freshman in college and had to take a class on telecommunications we had an engineer from Southwestern Bell come out and explain these new fangled fiber optics. One of the claims he made was that they would be nigh-impossible to tap because the splice could be detected at either end rather easily due to latency issues.

So my question is this: Anyone have any ideas how the heck they might have done this? Whatever the device was, it seems it'd have to be very, very fast at whatever it does. The only thing I can imagine is some sort of intelligent lens that reads signals while they pass through it.

Scary, whatever it is.

- Rev.

Re:Getting the data back to the NSA... (1)

Xugumad (39311) | more than 13 years ago | (#202102)

Errr... wouldn't it just make sense for them to both tap the original cable, because tapping the tap wouldn't give them any more information!

Data Overload (2)

Scouras (43171) | more than 13 years ago | (#202103)

The problem (blessing) is there is little chance of the NSA sorting through all the data. According to the article, the first cable laid back in 1988 was carrying 40,000 simultaneous phone calls. A cable planned for this summer are equivalent to 100 million phone calls. At a 56K modem each, that's like 5000 TB of data/second.

So they're going to build a room to drop to the bottom of the ocean, splice a cable, and then hold a computer cluster to process the data? Unless they are interested in very targetted ip's or other easily sorted packets, it'll be huge and costly. Anything interesting will probably be encrypted anyway, so they have to add a couple orders of magnitude of computer power for that.

Or maybe they are going to run their own fiber bundle back to dry land? Govornment agencies don't have quite that kind of budget.

Even if they can get reasonable results right now, Bandwidth usage is growing faster than processing power. They won't be able to keep up for much longer. And then eventually they will be caught, causing all the cable companies to search their entire lines for more taps, pissing off innumerable foreign countries.

The spy business ain't what it used to be.

Re:Data Overload (2)

Scouras (43171) | more than 13 years ago | (#202104)

Signals Intelligence and Ground Electronic Warfare equipment that is set up to do an unmanned monitor generally scans pseudo-randomly, looking for interesting patterns. When something sufficiently interesting happens, the equipment will alert a human operator, who can investigate, and respond as needed (ie. give that pattern/transmission/etc a higher priority to be monitored.)

However, as traffic grows and grows, they'll only be able to heuristically/pseudorandomly monitor a smaller and smaller portion of the traffic. Theoretically it would grow so small as to become an insignificant ammount.

Imagine this sort of scheme. All they really need to do is store all the possibly informative traffic and then randomly scan that. This is probably mostly text, which is tiny and relatively easily scanned. Things like live porn and back episodes of southpark can be safely ignored. To do this, they have to search though this fat pipe and check every packet to see whether it contains part of an e-mail. Even better, they should check it's source/destination IPs. With bandwidth growing like it is, they won't even be able to do that. So even if they know Mr. Russia and Mr. China are planning something nasty, they can't even reliably catch all the data transmitted between them. Unless it's important enough to plant bugs right at their house.

I suppose America just has to hope for few enough terrorists that we can bug them all properly. I of course hope for that already, but Mr. Bush hasn't spent a lot of time making friends lately, and the fear seems to be more towards lots of smaller, disorganized, hard to bug terrorist groups than anything else.

I'll call your bluff... (1)

lost_it (44553) | more than 13 years ago | (#202105)

Without a reference or something, I'm inclined to believe that you placed your keyboard between you and the toilet in order to create your post.

I suppose what your suggesting could be true, without some sort of proof, it sounds awfully far-fetched (that, or your stretching the truth or leaving out a lot of important "details").

To whomever modded this up "Informative", I have one thing to say: "Gullible isn't in the dictionary. Go ahead, try to look it up, it's not there".

Re:but how does NSA get the data? (2)

SETY (46845) | more than 13 years ago | (#202106)

As others have mentioned you can't dump even one slow 10 Gb/s channel to tape realistically. If it does exist it most likley:

1. converts to the electrical domain

2. follows a TDMed stream of SONET frames for a few seconds from a single phone call.

3. If a certain word is found (through voice recognition) real-time action could be taken or the information could be recorded to tape.

The point is; sorting for whatever you want basically has to be done on site and in a limited way.

Re:They did this during the cold war... (1)

mr100percent (57156) | more than 13 years ago | (#202109)

Why would they leave their name on it, if they were worried the russians would find it?

Geeze... (2)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 13 years ago | (#202113)

This must be expensive, having to upgrade their equipment at the bottom of the ocean whenever a new generation of transmitter/receiver/multiplexer comes out...

Re:Geeze... (2)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 13 years ago | (#202114)

Besides, I'm sure the tap is "thin" -- it just sees the light and sends a copy back to HQ, where they try to extract actual data in software

Using what data channel? They would have to winnow the information down to a tiny percentage of what was transmitted at the tap site (or
install their own undersea cable, which would be too hard to hide for the NSA's taste).

Getting the data back to the NSA... (5)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 13 years ago | (#202116)

The only way I can see this happening is if the NSA installed their own undersea fiberoptic cable to send it back to themselves on.

Good thing the Ex-Soviet Union didn't have the tech, apparently, or the NSA would have then found their own monitoring cable tapped, and have to install another tap and cable on the USSR's return cable, which would then be tapped by the Reds, and so on, and so on...

- "You've got an anti-anti-antimissle missle? Well, we've got an
anti-anti-anti-antimissle missle!" - Get Smart!

Re:Old News --- REALLY Old (1)

mike_the_kid (58164) | more than 13 years ago | (#202117)

Blind Man's Bluff (a book about submarine exploits) has an excellent account of how this was done. If I recall correctly, it was in the North Sea, and we tapped a phone line between one of their naval bases and headquarters. A huge risk on our part, because it was basically illegal (not in international waters). Very difficult in the super cold waters up there.
So yes, it was not optical back then, but the mission was basically the same. They had to go back every so often and collect the old tapes / put new ones in, and that was the biggest downside. But that does not seem like it would work, since you would need a huge tape to record all that info. They would have needed some way to relay the data more or less in real time. The article never really says that this happened, and I do not believe it did. How would you relay real time data from a fiber optic cable out in the middle of the ocean? These are not a few phone conversations, these are constant, high bandwidth streams.

Re:Old News --- REALLY Old (1)

mike_the_kid (58164) | more than 13 years ago | (#202118)

Oopps. I meant Sea of Okhotsk.
This comment clears that up. [slashdot.org]

Re:Actually, Blind Man's Bluff mentions TWO exploi (1)

mike_the_kid (58164) | more than 13 years ago | (#202119)

It has been a while since I read that, but let me plug it again, because it was a great book.
Blind Man's Bluff. If you liked u-571, das boot, red october, this is the real story.

NSA snippets (3)

joq (63625) | more than 13 years ago | (#202122)


The Wall Street Journal [wsj.com] just ran this something similar.. (haven't checked the zdnet doc lagging on dl's) [mirror [antioffline.com] ]

Anyways I doubt its impossible for the NSA to splice it, however when companies take the corrective measures to ensure this won't happen what are they going to do...

Example, say a company takes the time, and money to protect their fiber say inside inexpensive pvc pipes or something similar, who does the government expect to blame when a company finds out that 100 miles away from any shoreline, their casing has been breached? Certainly its not Joe Fisherman doing this.

Anyways aside from that nothing is going to help them when that fiber line is carrying IPSec data all the way through the connections, along with messages that have been encrypted before even being sent. So many people have little to worry about.

For those interested in Crypto Equipment and such (especially those working in the ISP segments) you can check out the Crypto Equipment Guide [antioffline.com] . Hopefully many companies will start looking at their clients (whether their employees, subscribers, etc.) more serious. I know Earthlink is taking that approach.

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (1)

hamjudo (64140) | more than 13 years ago | (#202124)

Why not just tap into one of the repeaters, which convert the optical signal into electronic signals and then back again?

The repeaters are all optical in modern cables. But you're essentially correct anyway. The repeater itself involves a change from regular fiber to doped fiber. A preexisting discontinuity in the fiber to mask the smaller discontinuity added by the tap. Also the signal is strongest there, so the NSA's tap needs a smaller percentage of the signal.

Based on zero practical experience, I'm guessing that the tap is done by the scrape and bend method. The bend can be done very slowly and steadily with a machine. Possibly taking hours or days, so there are no sudden changes to the cable signal.

They must run a fiber from the tap to the shore or a ship. There's no other way for them to get a reasonable volume of secrets from the tap.

Re:Impossible, you can buy the tools, (1)

hamjudo (64140) | more than 13 years ago | (#202125)

A little Google search says http://www.shomiti.com/products/index.html [shomiti.com] lists a tool for tapping gigabit fibers.

Maybe the NSA knows how to use Google...

They did this during the cold war... (1)

VFVTHUNTER (66253) | more than 13 years ago | (#202126)

they tapped a line (not fiber) in the Sea of Okhotsk, to eavesdrop on Russian military ops. They tapped it by sending a sub in to Okhotsk - this is like the Russians putting a sub in the Chesapeake bay - then several years later, an ex-NSA agent told the Russians about it. The tapping device, with a large "Property of The US Government" seal on it, is now sitting in a Moscow museum.

Re:Getting the data back to the NSA... (2)

phutureboy (70690) | more than 13 years ago | (#202128)

Errr... wouldn't it just make sense for them to both tap the original cable, because tapping the tap wouldn't give them any more information!

That would be way too straightforward, and would not use up enough tax dollars.

--

avoiding detection (1)

alieneye (86920) | more than 13 years ago | (#202130)

To avoid detection the NSA could simply have a "fishing" boat <i>accidentally</i> break the cable at the same time they're tapping into the fiber.

Re:Similar to antother interview (1)

jareds (100340) | more than 13 years ago | (#202132)

  • "I'm not going to sit here and dissuade you from your views" - Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden

    "Oh, Kent, I'd be lying if I said my men weren't committing crimes"- Homer J. Simpson

Here's a much more direct analogue:

"Why do you have so many bowling balls?" - Marge Simpson
"I'm not going to lie to you. So long." - Homer J. Simpson (who then drives off)

data sorting... (1)

jon_c (100593) | more than 13 years ago | (#202133)

While reading the artical I started thinking about how to sort all that data.. If you we're looking for something specific from somewhere in paticular it doesn't *seem* like it would be that hard.

just filter for an ip/subnet and record that. then latter try to break the crypto or whatever.

-Jon

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (1)

nehril (115874) | more than 13 years ago | (#202139)

given the resources of the US Government, it would be trivial to insert agents into a telecom company as engineers. That way, if a splice attempt were to be detected, the people watching the monitors would just look the other way.

I recall one of the US intelligence agencies placed people in a large variety of construction companies YEARS in advance of a new russian embassy building being built in DC, so that no matter who the russians chose to do the work, US agents would be in place to make sure secret rooms and tunnels were in place underneath.

It doesn't matter if a relatively short interruption takes place.

Actually, Blind Man's Bluff mentions TWO exploits (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 13 years ago | (#202145)

One was in the gulf between Kamtchatka and Vladivostok, the other was in the Arctic.

Both were in copper wires, but, given the difference in technology, it would be about the same difficulty to do in fiber today.

I like that. It sounds like trolling, but it's only fair: someone has a cable with a lot of data going through, the cable is there, just waiting for someone to tap into it...

In the 1950's the US and British intelligence services tapped a subterranean cable in Berlin. They dug a tunnel under the border and spliced into a soviet telephone cable in East Berlin. There is a romanticized version of this true-life story in the film "The Innocent" with Isabella Rosellini and Anthony Hopkins.

Isn't it ironic... (2)

crashnbur (127738) | more than 13 years ago | (#202149)

...don't you think?

Really? Isn't it ironic that the NSA stands for the very thing thay, behind our backs and behind the scenes, they attempt, and perhaps succeed, to invade? (Hint: What's the S in NSA stand for?)

A little too ironic... And yeah I really do think.

Ooo this one looks deep! (2)

Chagrin (128939) | more than 13 years ago | (#202155)

  • An anonymous reader submitted an interesting story about the NSA splicing fiber optics under water in order to eavesdrop on digital traffic
Anonymous, eh? Anyone got any conspiracy theories? :)

A Message to our friends at NSA (5)

CleverNickName (129189) | more than 13 years ago | (#202156)

When I read stories about things like this, with agencies like NSA monitoring everything I send for keywords, it makes me want to say:

Waihopai, INFOSEC, Information Security, Information Warfare, IW, IS, Priavacy, Information Terrorism, Terrorism Defensive Information, Defense Information Warfare, Offensive Information, Offensive Information Warfare, National Information Infrastructure, InfoSec, Reno, Compsec, Computer Terrorism, Firewalls, Secure Internet Connections, ISS, Passwords, DefCon V, Hackers, Encryption, Espionage, White House, Undercover, NCCS, Mayfly, PGP, PEM, RSA, Perl-RSA, MSNBC, bet, AOL, AOL TOS, CIS, CBOT, AIMSX, STARLAN, 3B2, BITNET, COSMOS, DATTA, E911, FCIC, HTCIA, IACIS, UT/RUS, JANET, JICC, ReMOB, LEETAC, UTU, VNET, BRLO, BZ, CANSLO, CBNRC, CIDA, JAVA, Active X, Compsec 97, LLC, DERA, Mavricks, Meta-hackers, ^?, Steve Case, Tools, Telex, Military Intelligence, Scully, Flame, Infowar, Bubba, Freeh, Archives, Sundevil, jack, Investigation, ISACA, NCSA, spook words, Verisign, Secure, ASIO, Lebed, ICE, NRO, Lexis-Nexis, NSCT, SCIF, FLiR, Lacrosse, Flashbangs, Masuda, Forte, AT, GIGN, Exon Shell, CQB, CONUS, CTU, RCMP, GRU, SASR, GSG-9, 22nd SAS, GEOS, EADA, BBE, STEP, Echelon, Dictionary, MD2, MD4, MDA, MYK, 747,777, 767, MI5, 737, MI6, 757, Kh-11, Shayet-13, SADMS, Spetznaz, Recce, 707, CIO, NOCS, Halcon, Duress, RAID, Psyops, grom, D-11, SERT, VIP, ARC, S.E.T. Team, MP5k, DREC, DEVGRP, DF, DSD, FDM, GRU, LRTS, SIGDEV, NACSI, PSAC, PTT, RFI, SIGDASYS, TDM. SUKLO, SUSLO, TELINT, TEXTA. ELF, LF, MF, VHF, UHF, SHF, SASP, WANK, Colonel, domestic disruption, smuggle, 15kg, nitrate, Pretoria, M-14, enigma, Bletchley Park, Clandestine, nkvd, argus, afsatcom, CQB, NVD, Counter Terrorism Security, Rapid Reaction, Corporate Security, Police, sniper, PPS, ASIS, ASLET, TSCM.

Re:Project was caught (3)

Ray Yang (135542) | more than 13 years ago | (#202157)

There were two taps: one in the Okhotsk Sea (in the Pacific), and one in the Barents Sea (north of Scandinavia). The traitor only gave away the Okhotsk Sea tap.

(source, for those who are interested, is Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, a truly excellent book about undersea espionage during the Cold War).

Ray

I heard the NSA actually decode the data.... (2)

efuseekay (138418) | more than 13 years ago | (#202159)

and found that it was all pr0n. [goatse.cx]

Re:Data Overload (1)

dgulbran (141477) | more than 13 years ago | (#202161)

Or maybe they are going to run their own fiber bundle back to dry land? Govornment agencies don't have quite that kind of budget.

We aren't talking about the Department of Housing and Urban Development here... we're talking the NSA. I'd be willing to bet they have the budget to do whatever they need. And we'll *never* know what their true budget is... much of it comes in the form of "black ops". I mean, really, how naive are you?

After all, this is the agency that simply abandons high-tech sites...

Re:but how does NSA get the data where? (1)

Corf (145778) | more than 13 years ago | (#202162)

ehhh, Fort Meade is in Maryland, last I checked. Drove by it last week on the Baltimore/Washington Parkway.

Re:1m thick? Are you a gringo? (2)

SuperCujo (151089) | more than 13 years ago | (#202164)

Thats why NASA landed that Mars probe so well...

11 acres of supercomputers (2)

green pizza (159161) | more than 13 years ago | (#202166)

I recently watched a program about the NSA on a cable television station (I don't recall if it was History Channel, Discovery Channel, or TLC). The only NSA computer photos shown were some Cray and SGI Origin PR photos in what looked to be a small machine room. It was mentioned that the NSA currently has 11 acres of supercomputers and disk storage. Another comment suggested that they used up "10 years worth of storage" in only a few months after the datawarehouse was built.

Now I see how Cray turned a profit this past quarter and why EMC^2 is doing so well!

Difficult? (1)

Mr_Person (162211) | more than 13 years ago | (#202167)

How hard would it be to tap a fiber line? I suppose you could just make a cut and then run it through a device that would splice it. Or would it be easier to dip the line in acid or something to take away the outer layer and then just look at the light passing through that way so it wouldn't create any delay or loss?
--

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (5)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 13 years ago | (#202168)

Not. Actually its fairly trivial to tap a fiber.

The basic technique once you've dried it off is to remove the cladding on one side and then bend the fiber slightly and place a detector on the outside.

The bend lets a tiny bit of light out, enough to detect, but not enough (hopefully) to tip off the telecoms engineers.

However doing this does produce a tiny echo on the fiber and it is theoretically possible for the cable operator to find the tap using timed reflectrometry equipment.

Carnivore (1)

_Elite_ (177862) | more than 13 years ago | (#202172)

Sounds like the perfect source of material for carnivore.

Wait a sec (1)

SnapperHead (178050) | more than 13 years ago | (#202173)

.. why are people suprised about this. :)

Seriously though, this was back in the eailer 90s, tech as changed quite a bit since then. Still, with all of the new types of encryption over different ports using different types of transport. Its a hell of a thing to pick apart. Better them then me :)


until (succeed) try { again(); }

Re:Old News --- REALLY Old (3)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#202175)

We snuck into harbors off of Siberia and put pods on their underwater cables to gather intelligence.

just be be precise, this was done inthe Artic ocean.

NOVA had a show (Submarines, Secrets, and Spies [pbs.org] ) on it back in Jabuary 1999. See the transcript here [pbs.org]

Maybe things have changed, but according to the special it was maybe halfway there when something went wrong:

It was the highest priority and the biggest budget item in the intelligence budget in the late Reagan administration. They spent about a billion dollars on it, and then it all went away, because of one guy, Pelton.

NARRATOR: Ronald Pelton was analyst working for the National Security Agency who was convicted of spying for the KGB. The on-line tap was one of the operations he compromised.

So this looks like old news, and it might not even be accurate.

Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

Re:Old News --- REALLY Old (3)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#202176)

Looks like the old effort had to do with Electro- Magnetic cables, phone lines, etc when it was during the Regan era.

But the modern effort has to do with fiber.

Aside with sheer volume of data, they also have this issue:

Dust or seawater in the submerged chamber could ruin an exposed fiber. Making a surreptitious tap of a live cable would also require circumventing the electrical charge--usually around 10,000 volts--which is used to power the devices that keep the speeding light beams strong.

This is know a "technical difficulties"

Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

Re:Pr0n, mp3, and DivX making NSA's life tough (1)

cthugha (185672) | more than 13 years ago | (#202177)

Now, I suppose, we *really* know why governments around the world want to eradicate music-swapping and "indecent" Internet imagery - they can't monitor what we're really up to through all the noise :)

I can see it now, yet another piece of propaganda in the moderator/troll war: "By sorting the insightful and interesting posts from the noise, moderators are helping the NSA to spy on innocent /.ers! Trolls are your only protection!"

Is the NSA really allowed to do this? (1)

PinkyAndThaBrain (206650) | more than 13 years ago | (#202181)

How many cable failures are really just failed taps? They may have the right to tap, but does the law allow them to cause million's of dollar worth of damages in the process?

Sniffing my traffic is one thing, I never really had much trouble with the NSA (apart from the occasional international economically motivated espionage) but disrupting my game of Subspace is quite another issue. Evil NSA.

Re:but how does NSA get the data? (1)

PinkyAndThaBrain (206650) | more than 13 years ago | (#202182)

The cable is already powered... just put the hardware needed for the analysis right there and hijack some packets (preferrably their own dummy packets send through legit channels, so noone else notices packetloss). This could be prevented by encryption of traffic stream as a whole by the fiber company, but I doubt thats the case.

Re:Not surprising. (1)

PinkyAndThaBrain (206650) | more than 13 years ago | (#202183)

Well if you put those words in a sentence like say
"The PLO supplied me with marijuana to sell to get money to buy C-4 from the IRA for suicide bombs to take out the presidents body guards and hijack his plane" Im sure it will ring a couple more bells, still wont work... but at least it will be interesting to see if you get any men in suits staking out your front door if you say it somewhere it could be taken serious.

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (2)

ScuzzMonkey (208981) | more than 13 years ago | (#202184)

Er... it seems to me if it were that easy for them to insert agents as engineers, they could avoid the whole complicated snarfing about in a cold, dark, hostile environment hundreds of meters beneath the surface of the ocean to place the tap. They'd just grab it at one of the ends. The very existence of the NSA puts a hole in your theory.

Or you could just be trolling... wasn't it Arthur C. Clarke who once said that any sufficiently well-constructed troll would be virtually indistinguishable from routine stupidity?

i think the cable in the book was copper (2)

Preposterous Coward (211739) | more than 13 years ago | (#202187)

I've read Blind Man's Bluff, and while it's quite informative and enjoyable -- there is a particularly chilling account of a barely-averted meltdown on board a nuclear-powered submarine -- my recollection of the incident it recounts does not sound like the same one described in this article. The cable tapped in Blind Man's Bluff was, I believe, a regular old copper cable that provided a dedicated phone connection betewen two Soviet military facilities. It ran across the Black Sea, or something like that. The thing that made me laugh was how they figured out WHERE the cable ran across the bottom -- basically they tooled around the shore of the sea and looked for a sign that said the Russian equivalent of "underwater cable, no mooring here."

Seriously, though, this is a great book: Like a non-fiction version of some of the early Clancy stories such as The Hunt for Red October. Fun stuff.

Re:Carnivore (2)

X-Dopple (213116) | more than 13 years ago | (#202188)

Perfect source of material for Echelon, not Carnivore. Carnivore belongs to the FBI.

With that being said, if they're really tapping underwater transmissions, here are some words that should trip Echelon:

SOMEONE SET UP US THE <BOMB>1!1!
GUN BOMB TERRORIST EVIL KILL ASSASSINATE MORE DEATH METALLICA RIAA MPAA H4x0r 31337 LINUX UNIX RMS OPEN SOURCE

Re:Data Overload (2)

MegaGremlin (216264) | more than 13 years ago | (#202190)

Even if it were 5,000,000 TB/sec, it wouldn't matter. High bandwidth data taps are not monitored in real time like a recording.

Signals Intelligence and Ground Electronic Warfare equipment that is set up to do an unmanned monitor generally scans pseudo-randomly, looking for interesting patterns. When something sufficiently interesting happens, the equipment will alert a human operator, who can investigate, and respond as needed (ie. give that pattern/transmission/etc a higher priority to be monitored.)

CIA back in the day (1)

SirDrinksAlot (226001) | more than 13 years ago | (#202195)

Back in the day of the Red menace the cia had listening devices underneith russian copper thats run across the sea bed in the deepest areas where it wasent patroled or monitored. then the russians would take one off and soon after another new one would be in its place elsewhere. These devices dident even need to be spliced in.

Re:Impossible (1)

ffsnjb (238634) | more than 13 years ago | (#202197)

sarcastic, but true. I have that book, it was required for one of the worst classes ever. It sits on a shelf, waiting to be burned.

This is possible without cutting the fiber (1)

Achy (238888) | more than 13 years ago | (#202198)

I can see two ways of doing it without cutting the fiber. First, when you bend an optical fiber, some light gets out. You just have to find a detector sensible enough to detect this light. Second, you can place a fiber parrallel and really close (touching) to the transmission fiber and their will be some coupling of light in this second fiber. These two ways reduce a little bit the output of the fiber but could easily go unnoticed.

This was covered in a book published in 1999 (2)

discovercomics (246851) | more than 13 years ago | (#202200)

Blind Mans Bluff is the title of the book available through fine bookstores [amazon.com] most everywhere, Harperperennial Library; ISBN: 006103004X. When it first came out in Hardcover I skimmed through it at the bookstore, seemed like it might be an interesting read but decided towait on the paperback. From the review on Amazon.com
"about American submarine espionage during the Cold War"..."The most interesting chapter reveals how an American sub secretly tapped Soviet communications cables beneath the waves"
A very brief biography of the author can be found here [annonline.com]

Re:Data and Voice Conversations / Technology (1)

man_ls (248470) | more than 13 years ago | (#202202)

This is known as "Echelon", and I had its existance confirmed by my Senator, who also is a member of the Senate Government Oversight committee or something like that, and the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they had recently had a meeting on the issue. While he declined to state more, since it was classified, he pretty much said that yes, the NSA is watching, and no, we can't do anything about it.

Not surprising. (2)

man_ls (248470) | more than 13 years ago | (#202203)

Haven't we done this in the past? At least the People are sort of aware of it going on this time around. The NSA shouldn't be allowed to operate outside the law, effectively wiretapping the conversations of millions of people at a time without their explicit permission or a court order.

It's a felony punishable by explusion for a student to bring a tape recorder to school to record their teacher's lectures for replay at a later date, because if they don't expressly tell their teacher they are doing so and give them a chance to say no, they are violating federal wiretap laws. Shouldn't the NSA be held to the same standard, or either having to notify the people they are monitoring, or have a court order telling them it is acceptable to do so?

If a government agency suddenly becomes above the law, as the NSA pretty much is, we should be afraid. Monitoring electronic conversations is no more right then monitoring someone's telephone.

Let's all start sending e-mails with words like "C-4", "the President", "bodyguards", "suicide bomb", "PLO", "IRA", "marijuana", and "hijacking" in an effort to flood their computer system with meaningless messages, to force them to stop.

Ohh wait, its been tried before, and failed.

Re:This is impossible. Or not. (1)

amirboy2 (264999) | more than 13 years ago | (#202206)

Ever heard of mirror that reflects some of the light off and lets some through?

Re:Impossible (1)

amirboy2 (264999) | more than 13 years ago | (#202207)

Is it just me or does sticking a needle in the cable to get 700 free porn channels seem easier than going 800m underwater and carefully placing some sort of an amplifier/reciever in a 1m thick cable?

As of now on encrypt EVERYTHING! (2)

amirboy2 (264999) | more than 13 years ago | (#202208)

PGP your email to mom asking for some new underwear. The thing is, if everything is encrypted, they wont be able to tell what is actually supposed to be encrypted... they would have to decrypt EVERYTHING, this'll make sure of two things:

1. Research on supercomputing in universities will get grants from the government.

2. When you actually need to use encryption on something, they wont bother decrypting it.

Re:This is possible without cutting the fiber (1)

Popocatepetl (267000) | more than 13 years ago | (#202209)

Putting two fibers together wouldn't work. First of all, the cladding stops the light from mingling, but even if it did, all you would get is loss.

Re:but how does NSA get the data? (3)

Migelikor1 (308578) | more than 13 years ago | (#202219)

Assuming that this is a simialar system to the wire taps used on the soviets in the 80s, the taps are set on the cable, and pods with nuclear reactors are placed alongside. The pods are carried in submarine torpedo tubes, and record massive ammounts of data onto tape drives. When the drives are getting full (or need to be checked) the pod containing the tapes is retrieved by a submarine and a new one is placed on the ocean floor, and connected to the power pod. This is not a system meant to let the government eavesdrop in real time by any means.

Re:All these grand theories !?! (1)

windowsLuser (314340) | more than 13 years ago | (#202220)

Scuse me.... but we were in a recession before Reagan was in office it was one of the deciding factors for him getting in. How you gather that Reagan was responsible for it I would dearly love to read. Some hyper-democrat manual I suppose.

Re:OTDR Will find splice taps (2)

number one duck (319827) | more than 13 years ago | (#202221)

However, is it profitable for your average telco/communications company to face off with the NSA? If I were them, I wouldn't want to be in that position...

Re:but how does NSA get the data where? (1)

n0-0p (325773) | more than 13 years ago | (#202224)

Virginia?

Re:but how does NSA get the data? (1)

Montecristo6 (398332) | more than 13 years ago | (#202226)

The above post is right. Check out Sherry Sontag's "Blind Man's Bluff", perhaps the most intriguing account of submarine spying during the Cold War around. She devoted a chapter to previously unpublished (this was 1996) stories about tapping of Russian communications cables (not fiberoptic, though) throughout the 80s. One was in the Pacific, by Ochotsk island, and the other one was in the North Atlantic, by the great Northern port of Murmansk. In the latter operations, the ship was manned only by volunteers, and it was rigged to explode on detection. Hairy stuff ... It's quite incredible to what leghts Pentagon was willing to go to get a glimpse of Soviet military machine.

Fiber Splicing (1)

CaptainPhoton (398343) | more than 13 years ago | (#202227)

I work for a company that builds telco equipment. A tap could be easily installed by splicing in a coupler. Sometimes you want to monitor things like SONET overhead or optical power, so it is reasonable to do this.

One question: how do you splice underwater? A fusion splicer produces the best splice, but every fusion splicer I've used is a large box that sits on a bench. I wouldn't want to use it outside a lab, so beneath the ocean is right out!

I also can't think of a way that the tap could be installed without interrupting service. I am curious whether it is possible to detect infrared light that refracts out of a single-mode fiber through a bend and whether a receiver can still make sense of the signal and frame up.

Re:Impossible (1)

kcelery (410487) | more than 13 years ago | (#202228)

Impossible? Not until you can see the light.

Carefully remove the shield on the optical fibre and put a light detecting device to read the traffic.

It's impossible to use your James bond antennae to tap on optical fibre because it does not give off electromagnetic radiation.

Re:Not surprising. (1)

drhemi (414356) | more than 13 years ago | (#202229)

Who will regulate the regulators? Not much can stop the government from doing this if they really want to know what you have to say in your emails. O by the way NSA I have an assignment due for the 28th incase anyone was wondering

Fox news special reports are the devil (1)

Supa Mentat (415750) | more than 13 years ago | (#202230)

If the American people (dear God, I sound like Bush!) knew about half of the crap the NSA and the government in general does, there would be an immense public outcry. Sadly, the only way for Americans to become aware of these things is through the news. CNN did a story on this but let's face it, Jo Shmoe doesn't get his news from CNN or NPR. Fox news and other such concentrations of stupidity in the media are dumbing us down and keeping us unaware of important goings on. The number of people I know that don't follow the news or get it from, "Fox News Special Reports," is appalling. Not only that, media monopolies, the worst type of a monopoly, have come into existance and are stamping out news sources that compete with them and therefore knocking out journalists and reporters with agendas that differ from their own. *cough AOL Time Warner cough* Back on topic... I think what the NSA does and what it stands for is disgusting. Something has to be done to protect the rights of the individual. The NSA is the antithesis of what I stand for politically and philosophically. The NSA cannot be allowed to continue on in this fashion. It's almost a good thing that I can't really do too much about it, I'm sure that I'd disappear from society within the next few days if I could. Oh and I declare shenanigans of the most serious order.

Project was caught (5)

6EQUJ5 (446008) | more than 13 years ago | (#202234)

I think it was CNN that did a whole documentry on the story. The ZDNet article seems to leave out one small detail -- a Russian double agent at the NSA gave the project away to the Soviets, and billions of dollars were lost on the project. Cool article though, at least they touched on some technical theories behind it.

As usual... (1)

kypper (446750) | more than 13 years ago | (#202237)

we are being monitored.
We knew this.
I am more curious as to how they sift through the data than how they tap the pipeline.

Data and Voice Conversations / Technology (1)

idonotexist (450877) | more than 13 years ago | (#202238)

All communications (fiber, microwave, copper, data, VoIP...) are monitored by a network of advanced servers with a combination of voice recognition hardware and data filtering technologies. This technology is years ahead of current commercially available related products.

All these grand theories !?! (1)

reposter (450888) | more than 13 years ago | (#202239)

I've found in life that paranoids dream of fantasies that are much more interesting than real life, whether it's big business, big government, CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. At the same time, it doesn't mean the paranoids aren't right after a fashion.
For example, Ronald Reagon in the early 1980's purposefully caused the recession at that time. Inflation was at 14% and getting worse. According to economic theory, you should be able jack up interest rates, throw millions of people out of work, and within a year the economy will recover, but resume at a much lower inflation rate.

As it turns out, Ronnie was right. But try explaining that to the people at the beginning of the recession who lost their jobs. I'm sure if they really understood how much control the government has over whether or not to force the country into a recession, they would be majorly pissed off.

Likewise, consider US cryptographic export restrictions. While its theoretical purpose is to make it easier for the NSA to spy on foreigners, it has the weird effect of reducing encryption within the United States. The average person in the US uses 40-bit encryption. Lots of products (such as the new AirPort wireless LAN) use 40-bit encryption because of this, even within the US. I think the government really does understand that export restrictions really have an effect on the encryption used by their own population.

On the other hand, I like low-inflation, and I also like the fact that I personally have easy access to 128-bit encryption but that the average stupid criminal doesn't. In other words, I think I like conspiracies. :)

I guess... (1)

InjuredLabMonkey (453692) | more than 13 years ago | (#202240)

The fish are all that are left for the NSA to spy on. I never those gills could say so much...

Re:Impossible (1)

InjuredLabMonkey (453692) | more than 13 years ago | (#202241)

Unless you are being sarcastic, which I'm assuming you are, you are gravely mistaken. Fiber optics were slow to be adopted because of how easily they could be tapped. So there.

Thars gold in them thar bits ... (2)

nicodaemos (454358) | more than 13 years ago | (#202242)

Sifting through the zillions of bits and finding something useful is a little trickier.

If they're successful at this, perhaps they can then help me with my inbox. My friends and coworkers keeping clogging up my mailbox, keeping me from the messages about "Making $5 mil in 30 days working from home on the Internet" and "Sexy Co-eds want you!"

Don't my friends understand that I could extremely wealthy *and* have bodacious nymphs at my side ... if only I could get to reading their messages! *Sigh*

Re:Difficult? (1)

catsidhe (454589) | more than 13 years ago | (#202243)

Hmm
...easier to dip the line in acid or something to take away the outer layer and then just look at the light passing through that way so it wouldn't create any delay or loss?
Trouble is, this would itself degrade the signal by taking photons out of the signal stream.

t-flop computer (1)

asspipet2000 (454596) | more than 13 years ago | (#202244)

could this be why the NSA wants to spend 150 million dollars on that new teta tera whatever the fuck flop computer? hmmmm
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