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NSA's 'Quantum' program hacks into even 'disconnected computers'

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If you think that if your computer is disconnected from the Internet you are safe from NSA spying, you'd be wrong, the New York Times reported on Monday. Software that uses a "secret technology that enables it (the NSA) to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet" has been implanted in nearly 100,000 computers around the globe.

Not only does the technique allow the U.S. to spy on those computers, it can also create an entryway for cyberattacks. However, the technique requires additional hardware to work. It has been in use since at least 2008, and relies on the use of tiny circuit boards and USB devices that have been secretly inserted into the computers. These devices transmit data in a secret radio channel.

It doesn't mean that the NSA isn't primarily focused on computers that connect to networks and the Internet. This method, though, gets around the problem of hacking into computers that others have tried to make invulnerable to hacking or cyberattack by disconnecting from the network.

The program, dubbed Quantum, was previously unknown until the leak by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

Since this method requires additional hardware, though, it relies on assistance via a spy or an unwitting user inserting what he thought was an innocent USB device, such as a flash drive. In some cases, the report said, the NSA gets assistance from manufacturers.

In a statement made to the New York Times, an NSA spokesperson said that the technique was not being used against U.S. targets.

NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against -- and only against ... valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.

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.

Quantum has been successful in inserting software into units of the Chinese Army, Russian military networks and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels.

Other targets that may surprise you are trade institutions inside the European Union, and "partners against terror" such as Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to both officials and an NSA map that details areas of “computer network exploitation.”

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce changes to the NSA's surveillance programs that he is expected to adopt, based on recommendations from a presidential task force.

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