Snowden leaks: NSA hacked Pacnet in 2009

Asia Pacific fibre network operator Pacnet was hacked by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in 2009, according to the latest leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the network operator’s computers in Hong Kong were hacked by the NSA in 2009 in an operation that has since been shutdown.

Snowden’s evidence that Pacnet’s PCs were hacked included dates, domain names, IP address and “other operational details”, which SCMP has not revealed.

Depending on the extent of the attack on Pacnet, it could be significant, given it operates the far-reaching East Asia Crossing (EAC) and C2C submarine networks, which stretch 37,000 kilometers across Asia and to the US west coast.

Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor to the NSA who has now been charged with espionage in the US, caused a stir in his temporary host territory, Hong Kong, last week after claiming the NSA had carried out 61,000 attacks over four years across the globe, including “hundreds” of targets in China and Hong Kong.

In an interview last week with SCMP, he claimed that “we [the NSA] hack network backbones -- like huge internet routers, basically” to efficiently gain large scale access to hundreds of thousands of computers.

The report however only notes that Pacnet computers were targeted and it is not clear why. On Friday the Guardian reported that the UK’s spy agency GCHQ tapped actual fibre optic cables (as opposed PCs owned by an operator) to analyse petabytes of internet traffic under a program known as Tempora in operation since the beginning of 2012.

The whistleblower took flight on Sunday from Hong Kong, reportedly on board a flight with Russian airline Aeroflot en route to Venezuela.

Despite a US request for Hong Kong to issue a provisional warrant for Snowden’s arrest, he was able to depart through a “lawful and normal”channel since the initial US request did not comply with Hong Kong law.

The Hong Kong government said it also formally requested “clarification” from the US on reports that US agencies had hacked computer systems on its territory.

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