NSA Cracked Open Encrypted Networks of Russian Airlines, Al Jazeera, and Other ‘High Potential’ Targets

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept: The National Security Agency successfully broke the encryption on a number of “high potential” virtual private networks, including those of media organization Al Jazeera, the Iraqi military and internet service organizations, and a number of airline reservation systems, according to a March 2006 NSA document. The fact that the NSA spied on Al Jazeera’s communications was reported by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in 2013, but that reporting did not mention that the spying was accomplished through the NSA’s compromise of Al Jazeera’s VPN. During the Bush administration, high-ranking U.S. officials criticized Al Jazeera, accusing the Qatar-based news organization of having an anti-American bias, including because it broadcasted taped messages from Osama bin Laden.

According to the document, contained in the cache of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA also compromised VPNs used by airline reservation systems Iran Air, “Paraguayan SABRE,” Russian airline Aeroflot, and “Russian Galileo.” Sabre and Galileo are both privately operated, centralized computer systems that facilitate travel transactions like booking airline tickets. Collectively, they are used by hundreds of airlines around the world. In Iraq, the NSA compromised VPNs at the Ministries of Defense and the Interior; the Ministry of Defense had been established by the U.S. in 2004 after the prior iteration was dissolved. Exploitation against the ministries’ VPNs appears to have occurred at roughly the same time as a broader “all-out campaign to penetrate Iraqi networks,” described by an NSA staffer in 2005.