The National Security Agency’s (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed documents claiming the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in the UK allegedly rooted a set of tools to manipulate the Internet in various ways.
The Intercept published the documents from Snowden on Monday, revealing the so-called activities of GCHQ, the British equivalent of NSA, which made use of tools for hacking popular social network and communications channels.
GCHQ used these tools to plant fabricated information, falsely increased website’s page view counts, manipulated results of polls online, amplified YouTube’s sanctioned messages and censored "extremist" video content.
Prank calls were also part of the capabilities, with two unsuspicious phone users being connected together in one call. Skype communications were also being monitored in real time, but further details on this were a bit vague. This, however, raised doubts as to the real participation of Microsoft with potential vulnerabilities or spy agencies.
The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) of GCHQ developed the said tools, which comprise "some of the most startling methods of propaganda and Internet deception contained within the Snowden archive."
According to the disclosed documents, JTRIG used "honey traps," "false flag operations," "fake victim blog posts," and psychological manipulation for targeting online activists, spying on Facebook and YouTube users and monitoring WikiLeaks visitors.
Meanwhile, another top-secret document named as "JTRIG Tools and Techniques" also showed a comprehensive look at how invasive and underhanded the operations of such unit are. It is intended to advise other units of GCHQ about the "weaponised capability" of JTRIG in terms of dark activities on the net and also serves as a signal for hackers to spread chaos online.
This top-secret document was revealed as the UK Parliament is on debate on a bill that would provide more surveillance powers to the British government. Prime Minister David Cameron has justified the bill as "emergency" that would "help keep us safe."
Code names were assigned to these tools used, such as Angry Pirate, Silverlord, Predators Face, Rolling Thunder and Imperial Barge among others. The tools have invasive methods included for online surveillance, "call bombing" and "distributed denial of service" attacks or DDoS.
Some tactics were described to be "in development," JTRIG says most are "fully operational, tested and reliable."
The document’s page was modified in July 2012 and was accessed nearly 20,000 times. It appears in an archive that takes on the style of Wikipedia.
GCHQ, says The Intercept, denied to comment on the issue, except that it only works "in accordance with strict legal and policy framework" and also subject to a "rigorous oversight."