Why & How Do Agencies Spy On Us?

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We got to know about exposed terminals in data communications and some precautionary measures you should adopt for a safer digital-life in my previous article. When I began writing reasons for those precautionary measures I realized how significant it was for the readers to first understand the concept of digital spying. So, today I’d like to shed light on espionage against you and me. How can my web camera spy on me? I never understood the technical force behind this until some time ago. I would like to give you an insight on the matter in a much simpler way that you’ll be able to comprehend it.


NSA Symbol
Source Image: www.carilllonregina.com

National Security Agency (NSA) of United States of America was created to administer USA communications and information systems. What initially seemed like any other government unit actually became a spying agency. It secretly spies on everyone in the world and uses the most powerful tools of mass surveillance by tracking someone’s Internet usage. It is as easy by entering an email address for them. Maybe someone from among us has already been NSA’s target.


Our personal data will benefit world powers to control our lives by snatching our power of decision making. Let me explain this statement in detail.

Source Image: www.csoonline.com

With rapid digitization of our world, mankind’s dependency on machine is only growing. More computer access means massive explosion of social media population. Have you noticed the permission prompts whenever you install an app? Almost every application we install demands access to our contacts list, location, photos and other media. Bound by our necessities and desires we have to give access to proceed with installation. Hence, when we say our search engines and applications spy on us, it is also due to these permission grants and embedded system cameras.

Mark Zuckerberg covers his laptop camera with a mask tape


In this whim of technology, algorithms are the gamers and they always win. Algorithm is a set of rules and patterns which form the basis when a developer and programmer has to build/code a system. For example, to create a calculator an algorithm would state that one object will be duplicated and added to its original value. Furthermore, for multiplication, one object will be duplicated as many times as its original value. Similarly, these algorithms are devised to produce outcomes for scenarios or generate possibilities for some syntactically disconnected amount of data.


NSA servers around the world
Source Image: The Intercept

Now, imagine a world map with billions of computers. 26.6 Billion to be exact! Every computer is a suction pump which sucks your data in its raw and refined form. This data reaches storage stations where algorithms are applied on them. Algorithms to excavate the locations we visit, our family members, our dreams, our passion subjects as well as our medical and family histories etc. Such data processing helps these agencies and other business tycoons to illegally obtain our data and personalize our search results, show us products we had talked about with friends and administer our life patterns. Products we view on Facebook sometimes appear as advertisements on Google. The songs we sing one day are shown to us on TikTok the next day. All of this is a part of a cyber spying web.


Power game has created and dismantled several communities. A man’s lust for autonomous power has now equipped a digital mask. In the future age of marveled Data Science, when our identities will be exposed and we might have no authority over our future decisions there is a chance that we would be treated as robotic slaves.


Fast forward many years and imagine there comes a point in your life when you have made enough money to pursue your dream of being a pilot. You’re healthy and can afford commercial pilot training. You have applied thrice as a trainee and your application has been rejected every time. One day you decide to face the situation and arrive at the premise. The reasons you’re told for being ineligible blow your mind.

The deciding committee accessed your profile and found that you were accused of a minor theft fifteen years ago, you’ve crafted a tattoo on your leg and that you’re from a family of farm owners. These records helped the algorithm depict your nature as a cow-boy who likes to party in town clubs and can slide a few dollars when the waiter’s not looking. The algorithms had produced such a result because a teenager filed a false report against you for a bicycle theft and you shared this embarrassing incident in a Facebook group. Additionally, data illegally collected from your browsing history showed your research over pictures of tattoos when it was only for a friend. Moreover, the Instagram display picture you uploaded showed you sitting on tractor with an old guy on a farm.


A human as puppet
Source Image: www.freelancer.ph

You were actually the son of a farm owner but how was that conflicting with being a pilot? People who walk on mud can’t fly high? Really? Well blame the algorithm who destined you and took away your power to conceal irrelevant facts or rumors about you. It is the utmost cry for digital autonomy over common people and its inevitable nature that forces leading nations of the world to spy on us. They know the future kings will be decided on economy, resources and digital diplomacy. Whereas, we cannot escape our dependent lifestyles and continue to provide hundreds and thousands of such instances which are being saved as digital missiles.


NSA and basically any hacker who wants to spy on us presents us with a harmless picture, video or a link. There is a code attached with the link of any such photo etc. When we click an infected link, that code has a script written in it which illegally opens a door for them to access and use our data. Other than penetrating through a loose gateway, this is another heinous way of hacking your system. So, your data can be stolen for identity thefts, to earn profit from your pictures as well as to be saved in giant database servers for future digitization.


This spy game escalates when it reaches the zone of cyber espionage. Cyber espionage involves spying on other country’s institutions for damage. Tools used to carry out these attacks remain with hackers and viruses. Many countries such as North Korea, China and USA are usually traced for espionage incidents.


Spying on Pakistan's sensitive targets
Source Image: Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research

A Norwegian telecommunication company “Telenor” noticed a system abnormality back in 2013. When the analyst went deeper into the state of affairs he found unauthorized accessions into their systems and the IP addresses were traced back to India. A report was published exposing a three year long cyber espionage case of India against Pakistan as “Operation Hangover”. The purpose of Indian hackers was to steal sensitive information about Pakistan’s communication infrastructure by trespassing into its affiliate company, Telenor. This group was not state-sponsored but managed to spy Pakistan’s government, private as well as military units. The problem is not with our defenses as there is no absolute solution against such attacks. One can only adopt preventive measures, stay away from unknown links and share less personal information with the world.


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