NSA/GCHQ: The HACIENDA Program for Internet Colonization

New NSA documents detail disturbing dragnet
NSA/GCHQ: The HACIENDA Program for Internet Colonization

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

by Heise Online | August 15, 2014


Since the early days of TCP, port scanning has been used by computer saboteurs to locate vulnerable systems. In a new set of top secret documents seen by Heise, it is revealed that in 2009, the British spy agency GCHQ made port scans a “standard tool” to be applied against entire nations (Figure 1, see the picture gallery).

Twenty-seven countries are listed as targets of the HACIENDA program in the presentation (Figure 2), which comes with a promotional offer: readers desiring to do reconnaissance against another country need simply send an e-mail (Figure 3).

The HACIENDA Program

The documents do not spell out details for a review process or the need to justify such an action. It should also be noted that the ability to port-scan an entire country is hardly wild fantasy; in 2013, a port scanner called Zmap was implemented that can scan the entire IPv4 address space in less than one hour using a single PC. [3] The massive use of this technology can thus make any server anywhere, large or small, a target for criminal state computer saboteurs.

The list of targeted services includes ubiquitous public services such as HTTP and FTP, as well as common administrative protocols such as SSH (Secure SHell protocol – used for remote access to systems) and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol – used for network administration) (Figure 4). Given that in the meantime, port scanning tools like Zmap have been developed which allow anyone to do comprehensive scans, it is not the technology used that is shocking, but rather the gargantuan scale and pervasiveness of the operation.

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