The Intercept, an online publication launched in February 2014 has published 48 top-secret and classified documents released by Edward Snowden about XKEYSCORE, one of NSA’s most powerful tools of surveillance, which enables its agents to search for sensitive data like passwords, emails, messages, etc. “as easy as typing a few words in Google.”
Servers of XKEYSCORE have storages which collect “full-take data,” which is information gathered from all of the traffic that it gathers. The Intercept stated that NSA documents show over tens of billions of records that are currently stored in its database. The NSA briefing on XKEYSCORE read:
“It is a fully distributed processing and query system that runs on machines around the world. At field sites, XKEYSCORE can run on multiple computers that gives it the ability to scale in both processing power and storage.”
Apart from emails, chats and traffic, Snowden’s released documents revealed that data collected by XKEYSCORE include pictures, documents, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, advertising analytics traffic, social media traffic, botnet traffic, logged keystrokes, computer network exploitation targeting, intercepted username and password pairs, file uploads to online services, and even Skype sessions.
According to a document published in 2013 entitled “VoIP Configuration and Forwarding Read Me,” XKEYSCORE is not limited to gathering and analyzing web traffic. The document explained that XKEYSCORE forwards VoIP data to NUCLEON, NSA’s repository for voice intercepts, facsimile and video. The Intercept reported that “At the time, it supported more than 8,000 users globally and was made up of 75 servers absorbing 700,000 voice, fax, video and tag files per day.”
According to a security researcher Jonahthan Brossard, XKeyscore makes it ridiculously easy to search for sensitive data. He told The Intercept:
"The amount of work an analyst has to perform to actually break into remote computers over the Internet seems ridiculously reduced — we are talking minutes, if not seconds. Simple. As easy as typing a few words in Google."
- Jonahthan Brossard (source)
NSA’s XKEYSCORE was first disclosed by the Guardian as a surveillance tool of the NSA that is with a constant flow of internet traffic from fiber optic cables, which makes up the world’s communication network. By 2008, XKEYSCORE hosted over 700 servers in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, and in many other countries.
NSA partners also known as the “Five Eyes” including Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. is said to have access to the databases of XKEYSCORE. In March, the New Zealand Herald announced that the New Zealand government has spied on candidates of the World Trade Organization director general and members of the Solomon Islands government using the surveillance tool.