The software enables the US spy agency to conduct surveillance on the computers and can create a digital highway for launching cyber attacks, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The newspaper cited NSA documents, computer experts and US officials in its report about the use of a secret technology using radio waves to gain access to computers that other countries have tried to protect from spying.
The technology, used by the NSA since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted covertly into the computers, the Times said.
In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy or manufacturer.
The agency calls the effort an “active defense” and has used the technology to monitor units of the Chinese Army, the Russian military, drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union.
The newspaper said the NSA has apparently not so far used the technology inside the United States. It said the agency refused to comment on the scope of the Quantum program.
“NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”
Parts of the spying program have been disclosed in documents over the past two month from the trove leaked by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.
Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, published the map of areas where the US has inserted spy software.