The NSA is keeping a close eye on financial transactions around the world, according to Spiegel magazine. The German publication has revealed that the intelligence agency has set up a separate division to track international payments by firms, and has created a new database with the information it collects.
The tailored access operations division is known as FTM, or Follow The Money, and its databank is known as Tracfin. In 2011, it contained 180 million records–84% of them from credit card transactions. FTM focuses mainly on transactions made in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa by VISA customers, although it also uses the SWIFT banking network (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), which sends secure transaction details.
The news will make painful reading for the NSA, which, according to leaked documents, has its tentacles inside the UN’s secure videoconferencing system, most smartphone operating systems, online encryption systems, private emails, and the latest hacker tactics. Even its British counterpart, GCHQ, was concerned about the privacy implications of snooping on financial data, saying in a document that it contained “rich personal information” about individuals who were not agency targets.
In a separate development this morning, Belgian telco firm Belgacom said that it had been hacked. Investigators discovered malware on the firm’s servers. Principal suspect at the moment is, apparently, the NSA. “Thus far we have no indication of any impact on our customers or their data,” the firm said in a statement. “The virus has only been detected in the internal computer system of Belgacom, not in its telecom network.”