NSA Secretly Working to Track Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal

Covert software tricked bitcoin users into believing they were surfing anonymously

The US National Security Agency (NSA) targeted bitcoin users through a secret government surveillance ‎program code-named MONKEYROCKET, ‎online paper The ‎Intercept reported on Monday.

According to the report, which bases its information on confidential NSA documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, ‎MONKEYROCKET is part of a previously undisclosed program called OAKSTAR, ‎which allows officials to collect a wide range of user information through a ‎collection of covert corporate partnerships.

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The collected ‎materials included bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, ‎and ‎MAC address, among many others.

The spy agency furthermore facilitates ‎extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information.‎ A foreign fiber cable site is also claimed to have been part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2012.

The disclosures reveal that the agency’s ‎program “wielded at least one mysterious source of ‎information to help track down senders and receivers of ‎Bitcoins.”

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NSA bitcoin tracking tapped ‎network equipment to gather data from the Middle East, ‎Europe, South America, and Asia, tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ‎ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”‎

Illusion of anonymity

Another top-secret passage, dating to March 2013, specifies that the information ‎was collected with help of an unnamed software program that ‎purported to offer anonymity to users.‎ As security analyst told The Intercept he believes the “browsing ‎product” component of MONKEYROCKET sounds a lot like a ‎virtual private network (VPN).

While the exact nature of the software used by the agency remains unknown, the documents show it functioned to trick bitcoin users into using a tool they believed would provide anonymity online but was actually funneling data directly to the NSA.

MONKEYROCKET was described in the documents as a “non-Western Internet anonymization service with a significant user base in Iran and China.” The NSA had implemented a “long-term strategy to attract targets toward using this browsing product,” which the agency can then exploit.

The scope of the spying program was later expanded beyond merely examining communications through the virtual currency’s underlying network ‎‎(Blockchain) to involve gathering ‎intimate details of the users’ computers.

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