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Meet XKeyscore: The NSA's Secret Real-Time Internet Snooping System That May Have Already Met You

New documents published in The Guardian reveal that the NSA can snoop on you in real time—and that the agency is building a giant keyword-based database of everything connected to the Internet, including Word and Excel docs on users' hard drives.

  • <p>XKeyscore has been monitoring the vast majority of Internet communications worldwide since 2008.</p>
  • <p>The NSA's web analytics put most corporate firms to shame for sheer width.</p>
  • <p>XKeyscore 101.</p>
  • <p>Powered by Linux.</p>
  • <p>Anonymous no more.</p>
  • <p>It's all about the metadata.</p>
  • <p>XKeyscore was big data before "big data" was an industry buzzword.</p>
  • <p>You've got to watch out for "suspicious stuff."</p>
  • <p>"Iran" is a keyword of interest here.</p>
  • <p>Have a non-U.S. startup offering VPN services? It's a fair guess the NSA is spying on your firm.</p>
  • <p>XKeyscore allows NSA analysts to track targets through the languages they speak.</p>
  • <p>Sounds just like every energy exploration big data project we've ever seen at a conference, except geared to anti-terrorism.</p>
  • <p>Even attached documents can be searched and parsed.</p>
  • <p>IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency... but what's IAEO?</p>
  • <p>As of 2008, XKeyscore resulted in the capture of hundreds of suspected terrorists worldwide.</p>
  • <p>Functionalities the NSA wanted to add to XKeyscore in 2008. How advanced are their capabilities now? We don't know yet.</p>
  • 01 /16 | XKeyscore

    XKeyscore has been monitoring the vast majority of Internet communications worldwide since 2008.

  • 02 /16 | Plugging The Plug-Ins

    The NSA's web analytics put most corporate firms to shame for sheer width.

  • 03 /16 | XKeyscore, Explained

    XKeyscore 101.

  • 04 /16 | NSA Servers Distributed Around The World?

    Powered by Linux.

  • 05 /16 | The NSA's Need To Know

    Anonymous no more.

  • 06 /16 | Explaining Via Clip Art

    It's all about the metadata.

  • 07 /16 | Sounds Like The Private Sector

    XKeyscore was big data before "big data" was an industry buzzword.

  • 08 /16 | "Suspicious Stuff" Gets Targets Flagged

    You've got to watch out for "suspicious stuff."

  • 09 /16 | PGP Users Targeted

    "Iran" is a keyword of interest here.

  • 10 /16 | VPNs Are Items Of Interest

    Have a non-U.S. startup offering VPN services? It's a fair guess the NSA is spying on your firm.

  • 11 /16 | Anomalous Language Detection

    XKeyscore allows NSA analysts to track targets through the languages they speak.

  • 12 /16 | Map Metadata

    Sounds just like every energy exploration big data project we've ever seen at a conference, except geared to anti-terrorism.

  • 13 /16 | Excel Isn't Safe

    Even attached documents can be searched and parsed.

  • 14 /16 | Bin Laden Search Queries

    IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency... but what's IAEO?

  • 15 /16 | NSA Gets Results

    As of 2008, XKeyscore resulted in the capture of hundreds of suspected terrorists worldwide.

  • 16 /16 | Future Functionalities... From 2008?

    Functionalities the NSA wanted to add to XKeyscore in 2008. How advanced are their capabilities now? We don't know yet.

Sometimes life seems a lot like dystopian science fiction. Case in point: The latest Edward Snowden revelation published by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. Leaked documents indicate that the National Security Agency has a secret program called XKeyscore, which "collects nearly everything a user does on the Internet" in near-real time. According to Greenwald's piece, XKeyscore can be used on anyone—NSA analysts require no authorization to use it on a target—and once put in place, it tracks a user's emails, social media activity, and browsing history.

Training materials for XKeyscore published in The Guardian give the scoop: Analysts do not require warrants or on-paper authorization from superiors, they only have to fill in a simple on-screen form to set it up for an individual target. Once put into place, it functions as a hybrid analytics platform and massive database that allows NSA analysts to track the contents of targets' Facebook messages and feeds, their emails, Google searches, and much more.

The slideshow above contains a selection of the... shall we say, more interesting slides from XKeyscore's training materials. It seems that the NSA has a particular interest in anyone using encryption, in any foreign companies that offer VPN services, and in Iranian Internet users in general.

According to the training materials (some of which were redacted), XKeyscore has helped catch hundreds of suspected terrorists so far. No word on all the English grannies with time on their hands who were just Googling for Pervez Musharraf, though.

Fast Company has been keeping an eye on the Ed Snowden revelations for quite some time and will continue adding information as it's available.

[Main Image: Wikimedia user Starvinsky]

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